What a waste

Shaun McCarthy

April 5, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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The Commission’s recent waste review highlighted some great practice but I can’t help feeling disappointed. Good practice is transitory and of little benefit if it does not inspire change.

The ODA have performed in exemplary manner: 97% waste diverted from landfill during demolition and 90%+ during construction. The second edition of the London 2012 Sustainability Plan introduced a new target to use “reasonable endeavours” to achieve 90%+ reuse or recycling after the Games. This is a remarkable target for the event management industry, which is usually very wasteful, particularly after an event, the period known as “bump-out” by the industry may just as well be called “skip-fest”. For the Games themselves LOCOG has gone one better, promising zero waste to landfill at Games-time and at least 70% of this to be re-used, recycled or composted. The Commission’s waste review scrutinised these plans and we were very impressed. We are confident this ambitious target can be achieved.

However, the Games promised more than this, it promised to “act as a catalyst for good waste management practice in East London”. This is simply not happening and in my opinion the waste industry and government organisations that support it have let the side down.

Firstly, in order to have zero waste to landfill, LOCOG must first minimise the waste it generates, then find somewhere to send the residual waste that can dispose of it in accordance with LOCOG’s ambitions. The idea was that this would stimulate development of suitable facilities locally, particularly for food waste. This has not happened. There is only one organic waste facility in development in East London. This was planned before the bid and will not support LOCOG’s target of 70% re-use, recycling or composting. LOCOG will need to transport waste to South London, north to Bedford or even by barge to Holland or Germany to achieve their objective.

Secondly, in our annual review in 2007, we recommended that the excellent Combined Cooling, Heat and Power system in the Olympic Park should be powered by biogas from waste to energy facilities developed in East London. There has been lots of activity as a result of this recommendation but no result. This will not happen in time for the Games; our only hope is for legacy.

An opportunity lost. What a waste!

It would be very convenient to blame somebody for this but it is not as simple as that. There are a number of factors contributing to this failure. The credit crunch did not help; financing schemes that have an element of risk related to new technology and uncertain market conditions became difficult for investors. The change of administration in City Hall saw a change in the way waste schemes were financed with the formation of the Mayor’s Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB). This has taken some time to get up and running and is currently sitting on a pile of money. This is regrettable as there is no doubting the Mayor’s commitment to the waste/energy agenda for London. The waste industry has not helped itself, according to LWARB, business cases put forward to them have been inadequate to justify distribution of public funds.

So, a solution that should be obvious to everybody from the Mayor to the ticket man at Fulham Broadway station is not going to happen in time for the Games. We need to look towards the Olympic Park Legacy Company and their energy partner Cofely to right this wrong in legacy.

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