Better known as Tyre Lady, the inspirational Rima Chai, 47, often attracts attention at marathons and ultras that she takes part in – because she drags a tyre behind her at each one of these long distance running events.
Tyre Lady drags these tyres for a reason though. Firstly she is aiming to complete 100 marathons and ultras with the tyre before the year 2020, and secondly because she is trying to create awareness of her mission to reduce the amount of trash that runners produce at races.
There is a lot of ‘run-away’ trash being left behind
Explained Tyre Lady, “This is a pressing issue, because there is a lot of ‘run-away’ trash that stays in the grass, bushes, falls into the drains, waterways, canals and seas. Gel packets, cups and bottles from these events are made from plastic. Paper cups are plastic lined so they are single use trash. We have micro-plastics everywhere and the run-away trash will become part of that.”
She added, “Also our landfill is filling fast and we need to do something about it. But with races allowing runners to litter the ground, dropping trash becomes an acceptable behaviour.”
There will be consequences if nothing is done
But she pointed out that this pressing issue cannot simply be left alone and that there will be consequences if we do not take action about it now.
Explained Rima, “We have been ignoring the warnings as if it were a piece of crumpled tissue on the floor in a public space. Our generations have created a disposable society meaning that we generate far more trash than generations before. We are ignorant of this trash. We think that once it is no longer with us, it disappears.”
She added, “Trash has to go somewhere though, and much of it is being burned in our local incinerators. Not enough is being recycled. We act as if we have unlimited new resources and will be able to have a second go if we screw this world up.”
Some of the consequences that result due to excess trash in the environment include the fact that animals and marine life will get sick and die as a result from ingesting this trash. This will thus affect organisms higher up in the food chain and indirectly, man, due to toxic chemicals from these waste products.
As well, litter left behind on the ground can cause accidents and injuries, or smother plants and possibly start fires. And contaminated groundwater too, can be toxic or poisonous, should these topic chemicals that are a by-product of our trash, leech into the oceans and seas.
She has been passionate about this cause since age seven
This is a cause that Tyre Lady has actually been passionate about since a young kid.
Said Rima, “It started when I was about seven years old and I used to carefully remove the gift wrapping from presents that were given to me. I would then try and reuse the gift wrapping for other people’s presents. I have never liked throwing away anything if it can still be reused and now have become more awareness and knowledgeable that our convenient life is harming not just us, but the environment that we live in.”
She added, “I could continue to be a spectator or I could be proactive and raise awareness. I chose the latter when people were interested in why I dragged a tyre.”
Tyre Lady’s running and tyre dragging exploits
Her tyre dragging exploits during marathons runs had started in 2006, when she was training for an expedition to the North Pole in 2008. As part of her North Pole training, she took part in the 42.195km category of the Singapore Marathon whilst dragging a tyre behind her and she has been doing so ever since. Her tyres can range from 8kg – 15kg, so she admitted that when she pulls her tyres, it is more of an amble rather than a run.
She said, “Running long events gives me time out of my own personal life, helping me to fight the demons in my head. It has and continues to enlighten me about who I am and the world that surrounds me. Running long events has also raised my game in being more resilient to life’s stresses and pressures.”
Runners in Singapore generally do not have a reduce, reuse & recycle mentality
When she had started running, Tyre Lady realised that runners in Singapore generally did not have a reduce, reuse and recycle mentality.
She explained, “There was a lot of trash generation at races. As well, on my tyre at the Singapore Marathon 2006, I had a Styrofoam box with plastic bottles and cans, promoting reduce, reuse and recycle. It has morphed and I have been using the interest people have in me running with a tyre to promote BYOR (bring your own reusable), getting folk to pledge to reduce their single use plastic by signing my tyre.”
She added, “And in the last two years, I have been appealing to organisers to reduce the amount of trash that is generated to make participants more responsible for the location of trash.”
Take the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon for instance. According to the organisers from IRONMAN Asia, a single marathon runner generates 26 paper cups along the route, one plastic water bottle at the finish point as well as one 100PLUS cans at the finish point. If you multiply that by 50,000 runners, then that is a lot of trash.
In addition, if you count the 30,000 bananas that the Singapore Marathon gives away on race day as well, that is about 30,000 banana skin peels generated too.
At the Singapore Marathon in 2006, there were waste produce from 10,055 bananas, 50,012 gel sachets, 85,000L of hydration generated in all.
IRONMAN Asia spends a total of about S$60,000 to clean the entire event each year, too.
Why she thinks runners tend to throw their trash wherever they like
And according to Tyre Lady, runners tend to throw their trash anywhere they like during such events because of a few reasons.
Said Tyre Lady, “The sheep mentality is one reason. New runners see so-called experienced runners dropping trash, so they do the same. Also, runners view their personal best (PB) as being more important so it is acceptable to do anything to get a PB. Race organisers have also allowed dropping of trash, so runners continue doing it with their self inflated ego of getting a PB.”
Continued Tyre Lady, “Runners are also lazy; there have been so many runners who have told me that carrying a bottle is heavy and that there are cleaners who will clean the course – that’s why we pay so much for an event!”
Yet she pointed out that these are the same runners who are mindful of practising measures of reducing, reusing and recycling in their everyday lives when they are not running, such as switching off the air con or lights when they leave a room or printing on recycled paper instead of new paper to prevent wastage.
She explained, “It shows you that education and acceptability are key to ensuring that someone behaves in a responsible manner.”
There is a lot more that Singapore running events can do, to be truly eco-friendly
Tyre Lady also stressed that while some running events in Singapore do have a BYOB (bring your own bottle) movement, there is a lot more that Singapore running events can do, in order to be truly eco friendly to the environment.
She said, “These runs encourage, not force runners to BYOB. It is disappointing to keep seeing the same old scenarios happening – as many races are ‘green washing’ using the words ‘green’ and ‘eco’ as selling points. If you are going to advertise ‘eco’ then make the entire event ‘eco friendly’ and leave no trace.”
As well, she added that measures that running events can take would be to go cup-less, have no packaging such as omitting plastic wrappers for the race singlets, making finisher tee shirts an add-on rather than an entitlement and encouraging runners to bring their own bag if they want to collect freebies.
Rima also reiterated that for events that are advertised as ‘eco’, their sponsors must also meet ‘green’ credentials if they are going to supply the event with food or hydration.
She continued, “But then again, many race organisers are too scared to implement the above, because the perception is that participants want to be spoilt like a child.”
How to be more mindful about your trash when you run
To make runners more mindful of the way they dispose their trash when they are running, Tyre Lady suggested a few pointers.
She said, “Firstly runners could hold onto their trash till they get to a checkpoint if they cannot see a bin. I promise that the extra weight is insignificant! Runners can also use their pockets if they don’t want to hold onto their trash and if you don’t have pockets, then carry a spare bag or pouch to shove all the bits into. Remember the gel packets have a tab too, so make sure that both the tab and the packets go into the bin – the tabs are often missed in a clean-up.”
And if runners feel that they agree with the need to reduce the amount of trash that they generate at races such as the upcoming Singapore Marathon, Tyre Lady also encourages them to print out the following logo and pin it to the back of their running shirt: