Author Archives: Aigul Safiullina

Guide to zero waste running in 2018

Fancy zero waste running in 2018?

We tend to criticise Hong Kong for its lack of environmental protection policies and crazy consumption. However, there is one thing we should all be thankful for: about three-quarters of its territory is countryside.

No wonder trail running is so popular in Hong Kong. It is also a powerful way to reduce your carbon footprint and reconnect with nature while getting stronger and healthier. To start running you only need a pair of shoes, a T-shirt and shorts or tights.

But trail running can be also wasteful. The more I ran last year, the more challenging it was to keep up my zero waste standards. As reaching the jar is one of my key resolutions this year, I talked to a few prominent trail runners and race directors to find out their plans and activities for 2018 and link them to zero waste lifestyle.

Zero waste run-solutions

Package free and healthy nutrition

Running requires a great deal of energy. Most of it comes from protein bars, electrolytes, powders – all wrapped in non-recyclable packaging. You can get away with a couple of bananas and apples, but it doesn’t work when you run long distances or add cardio workouts.

Silke Bender and Vlad Ixel are both accomplished trail runners and professional coaches. As they spend most of their time on the trails, nutrition becomes crucial. Vlad usually takes dates, a hydration pack filled with water and dissolvable electrolyte tablets on his trail runs.

No magic, just an easy way to avoid unnecessary packaging and waste,” he shares.

Silke adds: “To hydrate on my trail runs I bring water and coconut water. These are filled up at home into reusable hydration soft bottles, which means I don’t’ need to buy small bottles on the go, saving waste and money. Food wise I bring my homemade energy and protein balls in reusable zip bags”.

Cooking your own meals and choosing natural foods is a great tool, not only on the trails but as part of your daily snacks. You can find a great number of healthy recipes on Green Queen.

Photo credit: Green Queen
Photo credit: Silke Bender

Free water apps for trail running and hiking

Hydrating yourself is a huge priority if you go on a long run or hike. Running out of water might become a real nightmare, especially in summer. Luckily, you don’t need to buy the plastic bottles anymore – take your reusable one and refill it in the nearest water fountain. How to find them? There are currently two solutions in Hong Kong. Water for Free app is a crowdsourced tool available for both Android and IOS users. They also provide drinking fountain rental services.

Photo Credit: Water For Free

Another solution is the Water Initiative by HK Running launched in late 2017 to help athletes who are out running the trails or hiking to find the closest water fountain instead of having to buy another water bottle:

We are very pleased with the feedback so far having received support from a few of Hong Kong’s top environmental awareness and plastic reduction agencies: Ocean Recovery Alliance and Plastic Free HK. We are also looking forward to developing this in the future and helping HK become less dependent on single-use plastic items”, says David Tanner, Founder at HK Running.

David is also organising Women’s Five, Hong Kong’s women-only 5 week Running and Yoga programme to help them prepare, or to build on their fitness to for the run.

Map: HK Running

Zero waste running events

Taking part in running competitions is another milestone in your run-solutions. Whether it’s a 5km competition or a full 50k ultra, making it to the finish line is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, seeing the start/finish line – and often the checkpoints – filled with plastic bottles and single-use cups kills the spirit. Add the race packs full of sponsors’ leaflets, unwanted T-shirts wrapped in plastic and you might reconsider your passion to run the race.

The Green Race (TGR) was the first one to thrive for zero waste events, providing the runners with sustainable alternatives to medals, race packs and offers from sponsors. LoopUnite! teamed up with TGR for one of their races in 2017 achieving 83% of waste reduction.

Photo credit: The Green Race

Fortunately, more and more Hong Kong races are becoming sustainable. Steven Carr is one of the founders at RaceBase, famous for The 9 Dragons Race and The Country of Origin, among other running events. Having seen the massive amount of rubbish left at those races, Steven and his team decided to prevent it as much as possible.:

At the pre-race stage, no plastic will be used to wrap the race pack or medals. Factories have been asked to use less plastic in their packaging and this is at our cost”, reassures Steven.

RaceBase will ask participants to bring their own cups and utensils for any food during the event. To attack the waste produced during the event, RaceBase will have separate containers at all checkpoints and send it later to recycling centres, while food waste will be sent to composting.

Photo Credit: RaceBase

At the Women’s Five we try and be as less wasteful as possible, one example is the merchandise we give to everyone in race packs – some of it is usually individually wrapped in plastic, but we make sure to order them in bulk and not individually wrapped“, says David Tanner.

You can check the 2018 race calendar for Asia and start setting your milestones.

Donating your unwanted clothes

Runners tend to try out many pairs of shoes before finding the ones that fit their needs most. Add here the GPS watches, backpacks, poles and other items left behind by their newest models – and you have another big wardrobe problem. What should you do if they are still in good condition? Donate them to less privileged runners!

Gone Running is a popular online and physical shop, “for runners, by runners” as they describe themselves. They are collecting donations for the Nepalese runners and most recently they launched a new campaign, where you can donate your old working GPS watches and get a 200HKD voucher if you decide to purchase the newer model.

Likewise, Steven’s team is working with two green charities “who will collect any unwanted finishing gifts to be sent to other charities who can use these” at their races.

Beach cleanups and runs

Many of us have offered our help at least one beach cleanup in Hong Kong. Why not to merge it with trail running? Keilem Ng is a famous eco-warrior and activist. She started with “One person – 30 minutes” initiative, where she spends 30 minutes for a regular beach cleanup in Lantau, and documenting it on social media. Keilem then founded Eco Marine, a Lantau based non-profit organisation that aims to promote local marine and environmental awareness.

“At Eco Marine, beyond discouraging single-use plastic items like single-use water bottles, disposable rain jackets etc, we encourage a ‘take out policy’ where we carry away our own rubbish items as well as pick up additional rubbish items we may see on the trails. We believe every little action counts and a small change by every individual can together create great impact”, explains Keilem.

Photo Credit: Keilem Ng

You can join The Eco Marine Adventure Cleanup #2 on Sunday and meet Mira Rai, a legendary Nepalese runner.

Trail running is only one of the millions of options to improve your fitness, health and nutrition goals simultaneously in 2018. It’s also an exciting way to go zero waste and be part of the glocal community that always inspires and supports you.

Do hope this article inspires you to lace up your shoes and hit one of the HK trails!

Photo credit: Women’s five
Trail running with Hong Kong and Singapore runners

My Trail Running Story

After a day of trail running, I went outside the bamboo house in Lahu village to see the first sunlight and to get some fresh air. I immediately found myself in a warm hug of awakening nature and looked around. My jaw dropped immediately and I held my breath. The abundance of changing colour palettes in front of me had a hypnotising effect. The mountain forest surrounding the village was filled with giant pine trees, mixed with the bright chartreuse green leaves and intense bluish foliage plants. I spotted a tiny river flowing between two mountains covered with mist and tried to guess the distance between us.

Then I looked down at my feet and found multiple blisters, all competing with each other to grow bigger and faster, while three of my toenails slowly blackened only to later detach themselves. Trail running had taken its toll. I shrugged and kept looking at the forest. There I stood at 5 am in the morning, fully awake and smiling, accompanied by the birds and the village roosters. A simple thought made me smile harder. Why would I even care about those blisters and toenails? Shouldn’t it be normal after trail running in the beautiful mountains for the entire day? As a reward, I had my bamboo house with the stunning view, I had my singing roosters and complex scents of the flowers and plants nearby, so perfect to be a normal morning.

Nothing of it looked like my usual morning indeed, rather quite the opposite. My morning would usually start with a sprint for the Hong Kong MTR, only to get stuck behind the slow walking people. They occasionally stepped on my feet but not enough to cause blisters. I never really had the time and energy to meditate or stay outside my tiny apartment, barefoot and smiling. The last time I saw a rooster was during the Chinese New Year.

I’ve immersed myself in big cities ever since I left home, a place in the Ural Mountains, and couldn’t imagine living this close to nature anytime soon. But last year I moved to Hong Kong and changed my concept of big city living. With the World’s highest land prices, Hong Kong has something majestic and free for everyone: the abundance of hiking and opportunities for trail running all over its territory. Many of them are only two to three MTR stops away no matter where you are! I couldn’t refuse such a generous gift and very quickly started exploring those scenic trails for fitness and fun.

And then I went on a three-day trail running retreat to Thailand, with complete strangers, all of them experienced Hong Kong and Singapore runners. I’m pretty sure it was one of the most illogical and insane decisions I’ve made this year. The closer the trip was, the more nervous I got, waking up from nightmares. The scenes of being lost, devastated and injured became my normal dreams but, luckily, never a reality. That morning in Lahu was the first time I’d awoken without having had any dreams at all. I was well rested and ready for the upcoming day, full of new challenges, new surprises and more scenic views.

No, it wasn’t all as sweet and fun as it might sound. There were moments when I was thinking: “Why am I doing this to myself?”. And the best answer was to keep on moving and appreciating nature for every large and small masterpiece it created for us along the way. Jumping like a mountain goat, climbing up and down, falling and running again. Isn’t it the best way to reconnect with our true selves? To stretch our limits? And to get that inner strength that we need to keep on moving in our ‘real’ life? I wasn’t properly prepared for that trail running trip, to my liking at least… but is there any time when we feel well prepared for the things that happen in our life? As long as we listen to ourselves and take a full responsibility over our decisions, there should be no physical barriers, no excuses to run towards our dreams.

That morning in Lahu village, I fully reconnected with my true self, a girl who was born and raised in the mountains, remaining a part of them in every corner of the World.


Find out more about Aigul

Discover your adventure with the Hong Kong Trail Runners

My Journey to Zero Waste

During my semi-nomadic life I’ve rarely been a wasteful person… or at least that’s what I thought. I’ve never had too many possessions as I’ve been constantly flitting between new flats, cities, and countries, so packing light became a way of life.

And then I moved to Hong Kong where I immediately encountered two things that impacted on my life. One was the huge amount of waste. It was everywhere and I couldn’t unsee it: rubbish bins full of food waste in front of restaurants; shopping outlets’ waste on every corner. And a great deal of plastic! I felt as if plastic would invade my tiny apartment and I’d run out of space. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any recycling facilities nearby and it took me ages to find a handful of eco friendly products. I hesitated going to the wet markets because of the language barriers.

So I signed up for Cantonese lessons and there I had my second encounter, Paola Cortese, one of my 14 fellow students. We quickly became friends and eventually she introduced me to her zero waste lifestyle. I asked her how I could live a zero waste life too and she gave some great tips. But I was already getting into the crazy Hong Kong rhythm and wanted it fast and painless. In fact, I needed a friend who would give me a hand and encourage me on the way.

We agreed on a three-month timeline and made a week-by-week plan with a regular assessment. Having a plan was crucial: I knew exactly where to start and when to prepare myself for the next step. Paola introduced me to the zero waste Rs and weighed my trash bin. It was about 1.3kg that week. Not a great deal, as I hadn’t spent much time at home, but I still wanted to reduce it as much as possible. So I bought a bokashi composter and immediately conquered my food waste. I equipped myself with the zero waste essentials and banned plastic from entering my apartment. Easy?

Well, not really. My old habits still prevailed. It was a longer walk to the organic corner of the wet market so I had to make an effort… my broken Cantonese helped a lot! It took time to stop using paper towels to dry my hands in public toilets, and say no to excessive packaging. I discovered that prepping my own meals was much easier and healthier than eating out, or ordering takeaways. So I was forced to cook better than I had before. Eventually, I had to let go of many of my clothes and books that I no longer needed. It’s an ongoing process and I still keep a lot of stuff ‘just in case’.

There were moments when I felt like going backwards: buying an unnecessary pair of shoes on sale, forgetting the magic phrase ‘no straw please’ and so many others. I’d call Paola and say: “Uhm, I failed again today” but, luckily, she’d only encourage me and brainstorm on other options. This is how I became a consignor at a second hand shop and already earned my first 56 HKD. I discovered new products and learnt how to make my own cleaning products. Homemade toothpaste? Never crossed my mind and I just love using it now!

But the most impactful part of the journey is definitely my local community. I went to loads of local events and discovered Hong Kong eco warriors and game changers. They are a great source of inspiration and I started working on bringing them all together with Paola in LoopUnite!.

I documented my journey on the blog and Instagram and was astonished to see so many positive responses from other people. Some of them joined the journey in their countries and it was one of the best outcomes of going zero waste. I’ve had a lot of funny moments always hoping to be a motivator rather than irritating people.

The journey has pushed me to seek more from life and be open to change. I’m training hard for a few trail running marathons, waking up much earlier than before and taking my nutrition very seriously. I’m more aware of where things come from (for example, my clothes) and where they go to (all our waste). I spend more time connecting with people and the nature and don’t feel addicted to the material things very much. It’s been an eventful journey, but I’m curious as to what to expect in the next chapter!

Hong Kong’s Time Bomb

Hong Kong has a colossal problem – it’s literally being overwhelmed by its own waste and facing environmental catastrophe. Our Environmental Protection Department tell us that if we continue down this path the issue will reach breaking point in just three years. Continue reading

Boats in Victoria Harbour

Scientists Predict The End of Sea Life

German sportswear brand Adidas joined forces with Parley for the Oceans as one of their environmental collaborators, unveiling their prototype plastic trainers together at UN Headquarters in 2015. Continue reading

Fruit packaged in plastic

China’s War on Waste

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has advised the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this week that it will ban imports on many types of waste by the end of the year. This will include plastics, unsorted paper and some textile materials.

It was the discovery that large amounts of ‘dirty or even hazardous’ waste was being mixed with waste imported for recycling into raw materials, which led to the curtailing of the importation of this highly polluted solid waste. Unsurprisingly, the waste was found to be having a detrimental impact on the environment and people’s health.

China has been a major importer of waste in the past – 7.3 million tonnes of waste plastics alone in 2015, valued at $3.7 billion, and which equated to 48 per cent of the globally traded total.

Illegal smuggling of foreign waste into the country is also an issue and China’s General Administration of Customs introduced National Sword 2017, in order to combat this activity.

This leaves countries such as the US and Japan – two of the largest plastic waste exporters – with a major headache.



China Daily
Waste 360