Olympic organisers struggle with ‘zero waste’ target


With just two weeks to go before the opening of London 2012,millions of visitors are preparing to descend on our capital city. But will London deliver, in DavidCameron‘s words, “the greenest Games ever”? And how will the chemical industrycontribute?

An estimated 8,000 tonnes of waste will be collected acrossthe Olympic venues, and London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG)aims to recycle 70% of it. Phil Cumming, corporate sustainability manager for LOCOG,is in charge of meeting this target. He admits that the company “has come upwith an approach which has not been attempted at this scale”, but remainsconfident that they will succeed.

LOCOG and government-funded WRAP present a wealth of ways inwhich they will attempt to execute this task in the ‘London 2012 Zero WasteGames Vision.’ It describes, for instance, the alliance of Coca-Cola and SITA UK. The twocompanies will create recyclable PET bottles, containing up to 25% recycledcontent (rPET). These will be reprocessed, as with all clear PET bottlesdiscarded at the games, and with the help of ECO Plastics, within an impressivesix weeks. Similarly, products will be served in recyclable polypropylene (PP)cups whenever possible.

As these PET bottles account for around 30% of the Games’predicted total waste, these companies’ work is crucial to London 2012′sefforts towards sustainability. 

The Dow Chemical Company is another example of the chemicalindustry’s involvement in London‘s’Zero Waste’ Vision, and goes far beyond recycling. George Hamilton, vicepresident for Dow Olympic operations, described the games as “a great platform”for sales, predicting to generate over $1 billion revenue during their ten-yearOfficial Worldwide Olympic Partnership; but the US company’s intentions are not purelymercenary. Dow’s goal is to “provide solutions that help make the Olympic Gamesmore sustainable”; this is apparent through their contributions to London‘srapidly-approaching Games.

Dow’s Plastics Division, for instance, provided the sustainablefabric wrap to surround the iconic Olympic stadium. Compared to conventionalmaterials, it will have a lower carbon footprint, require fewer raw materialsin manufacturing, and will be recycled following the Games. The printingprocess will also reduce emissions and eliminate volatile organic compounds(VOC). Their Performance Plastics Division has also developed sustainable high-performancepolyethylene resin used to make the artificial grass for the Olympic hockeypitches.

Despite the efforts of both the chemical industry and thoseplanning this summer’s Olympics, it seems the sustainability plans central to London‘s winning bid weretoo ambitious.

As well as concerns about pollution and failures to meet 20%renewable energy targets, London 2012 is set to damage the environment throughbreaking their ‘Zero Waste’ promises. Some food waste will be sent to landfill,and a reported 99% of demolition materials were not reused.

Plans for a low-carbon Olympic torch were also scrapped asEDF Energy failed to develop it in time. According to Shaun McCarthy, chair ofthe Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, what would have been an “unequivocaldemonstration of London‘scommitment to a truly sustainable Games”, has been replaced with a lesssustainable torch, using a formula of butane and propane.

Many have voiced their concerns about the reality of London2012′s impact on the environment. Darren Johnson, London assembly Green party member said theorganisers “are a long way short of the inspirational revolution inenvironmental policy we were promised.”

Obviously, the reality of the Olympics’ sustainability willremain unclear until the last bottle has been binned. The work of LOCOG, WRAPand companies such as Dow certainly seems to have pushed London in the right direction. But thegreenest Games ever? I’m doubtful.

By Becky Wilson




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