After the gold rush

Shaun McCarthy

August 28, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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Imagine the proud athlete standing on the podium receiving a gold medal in the London Olympic Stadium. The tearful pride during the national anthem brings a lump to the throat of hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world.

As a sustainability nut, the lump in my throat will be for a different reason. My thoughts would be “I wonder what happens to the podium after the games? Where does it go? Where did the flowers come from? Were they from a water-stressed region of the world? Were they grown by people employed under decent conditions? Maybe they are not flowers at all but something that looks like flowers made from recycled paper?” (a serious suggestion made by the London Wildlife Trust).

Waste is a massive subject for London 2012 and the indicators to date are really good.

The ODA has achieved a ground-breaking performance during the demolition and remediation stage of the project, comfortably exceeding the 90% target for waste diverted from landfill. The construction stage is looking good too, the 90% target set by waste partner Veolia beats the previous best practice for Heathrow Terminal 5 and after a difficult start on site, this objective looks set to be achieved.

LOCOG has set a breathtaking target to achieve zero waste to landfill during games time. Given that there will be 7.9 million visitors to the Games, this is a huge challenge. Plans are underway to set out how this will be achieved and we look forward to them.

But what about all the temporary materials? The medal podiums (or is it podia?), the temporary furniture in the athletes village, the tensile plastic wrap and roofing material (enough to wrap the Canary Wharf Tower twice). The quantity of waste involved here is not yet defined and we don’t yet know where it will go. We do know that LOCOG will lease as much material as possible and there are innovative approaches for some temporary buildings like the Water Polo centre for the supplier to take it back after use and re-use it somewhere else. In our latest annual report, we have recommended this subject is reviewed and we will continue to monitor progress.

We also need to consider the area around the Olympic Park, some of the host boroughs have the worst recycling rates in the country and the issue of litter and waste disposal in the local community is high on the agenda of the local authorities.

There is much to be done if we don’t want a sea of litter and waste to landfill after the gold rush.

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