London 2012 Wins Gold for Waste


By: Stephen Kennett

Meticulous attention to packaging, an innovative bin system and the exclusive use of a materials recycling facility have combined to help London 2012 deliver on its sustainability targets concludes a new report.

The in-depth study by the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, found that the Games broadly delivered against its sustainability objectives including targets for zero waste to landfill and 70% waste to be re-used, recycled or composted.

These are the toughest waste targets ever set for a summer Games and are claimed to eclipse those of traditional events, which typically achieve 15%.

Shaun McCarthy, chair of the commission said: “London 2012 has raised the bar on sustainability, not just for future Olympic and Paralympic Games but for industry, and for the organisers of major events the world over – from music festivals to football World Cups".

Highlights of the waste strategy include:

  • Consumer use of the bin system - London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) commissioned bespoke bins to support its three stream source separation of waste, into recyclables, residual, and compostables. The bins were of different colours with matching bin bags, and the residual waste bin was designed to be the smallest. Matching colour coding was placed on food packaging to show spectators where to put their rubbish.
  • Food packaging - The aspiration that all food packaging for the Games would be compostable or recyclable and using a single waste stream where possible was close to being achieved. Compostable packaging included plates, cutlery, hot drink containers and lids and cold drink containers and paper food containers. Recyclable packaging including salad containers and commercial cold drink bottles. Non recyclable packaging included milk jiggers, confectionary packaging as well as tin foil pie containers (in the context of the waste streams being recycled at the particular facility).
  • Post-collection waste treatment - The LOCOG waste contractor brought residual and compostable waste to its Barking waste transfer station for manual inspection and picking before compostable waste was diverted to a subcontractor for in-vessel composting, and residual waste was sent for incineration, or for treatment as recyclable waste. Recyclable waste was sent to the contractor’s Barking materials recycling facility where it was sorted into PET bottles, paper and card and residual waste. The waste contractor applied several additional manual inspections to the waste treatment process to improve waste segregation rates. Without the approach of the waste contractor to apply additional waste separation through manual inspection LOCOG and the waste contractor advised that waste segregation would have been lower than needed. The experience of the waste contractor and the way in which learnings from early in the period were incorporated into revised practices demonstrates that waste management for major events cannot be undertaken on a ‘set and forget’ basis.

Download the full report.

Read 'London 2012: Greenest Games ever, but where are the wind turbines?' or 'What's the Future for London After the Olympic Games?'

Download a copy of the BioRegional and WWF-UK report on how well London 2012 delivered on its sustainability targets.

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