Every four years, we marvel at the strength, speed and grace of the most gifted athletes from around the world at the Olympic summer games. The fireworks, theatrics, and parade of the world’s most elite athletes draw millions of spectators, live and virtual, to watch this world-renowned event. Last night, I watched in awe as the US women gymnasts catapulted themselves off the vault and swirled around the uneven bars as if it were as easy as skipping down the street. As my friends ohh’d and ahh’d at the talent of these competitors, I couldn’t help but think of all the waste the Games must generate. So I did what any inquisitive mind in the 21st century would do—I Googled Olympics 2012 Waste.
The Road to the Gold
As over 2 million articles related to these words popped up, I quickly realized just how energy and resource intensive the Games demand on their hosting cities. The transient nature and large influx of visitors—about 10 million—for a mere three weeks makes this event perhaps one of the most difficult for sustainability and waste management coordinators to plan. In particular, the hectic schedule of the competitions leaves little time for fans to pack drinks and food and thus buy these items on-the-go, which leads to a lot of consumer waste.
To address this problem, London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) decided to only allot food and beverage companies vendor space if the product containers met the European Composting Standards (EN 13432). Considering that Coca-Cola anticipates selling over 20 million bottles of soda and McDonald’s plans serving 14 million meals during the Games, this initiative may divert over 3,300 metric tons of drink and food waste from the landfill. That is the equivalent of 83 fully loaded semi-trucks!
A Golden Effort
To accomplish their 70% waste avoidance goal LOCOG not only partnered with companies to design compostable packaging, but also compost receptacles, as shown in the picture below.
The compostable waste items and the compost bin are both color-coded orange to help avoid confusion. Additionally, volunteers will stand by some of the receptacles and help fans place their waste in the right bin. Another team of volunteers will also sort the trash behind the scenes to ensure that only true waste is sent to the dump. This compost will then be sold as fertilizer and the proceeds will benefit non-profit organizations such as the London Food Bank and the Boys & Girls Club.
The Gold Standard
While the excitement of the Olympics got me thinking about this topic, the methods that LOGOC used to increase composting rates are easy to implement within our own communities. Simply placing a third bucket next to your trash and recycling bins is a great first step to composting. Depending on where you live, you may have option to donate it to a local community garden, give it to the city, or use it as your own fertilizer for your garden. So whether you are planning a big scale event like the Olympics or simply looking for new ways to reduce waste in your home, composting can help achieve a zero waste goal.
So I would like to know—do you compost? What ways do you use your compost? Does your community have the infrastructure to help facilitate composting? How can we overcome the barriers that prevent more of us from composting?