Sustainability

Olympic organisers lambast waste reporting

Olympics recycling

The official and finalised recycling figures of the London 2012 Olympic Games have been released by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited (LOCOG), showing that the ‘greenest games ever’ diverted 100 per cent of waste from landfill, and ‘actually’ reused, recycled or composted 62 per cent of waste, below the 70 per cent target set.

The ‘London 2012 Post-Games Sustainability Report: A legacy of change’, released on Tuesday (11 December), details all the finalised figures for waste collected at the main Olympic venues (excluding opening and closing ceremonies (listed in another report) and waste collected at Olympic screening areas) and shows that though an initial figure of waste reused, recycled and composted amounted to 82 per cent – thus exceeding the 70 per cent target – a below-target ‘true’ figure of 62 per cent was actually recorded.

According to the report, the initial figure was calculated in the ‘same way that most businesses in the UK report on their waste performance: by measuring the proportion of different streams leaving their sites or venues’.

Waste reporting ‘misleading’

However, in the report, LOCOG rejects the current reporting methods for commercial waste, saying that in its experience, recycling figures are ‘misleading’ as commercial waste is often mixed with that from other companies and does not take into account material rejected from the materials recovery facilities (MRFs).

‘The bulk of commercial waste is normally co-mingled with waste from other producers at an intermediary site such as a transfer station or Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), so there is no way of knowing how much is truly recycled’, reads the report.

‘Levels of contamination in the streams and efficiencies of treatment facilities are therefore not generally taken into account… Reporting on this basis is misleading and does not clarify the true end fate of the waste.’

LOCOG goes on to say that they were able to ‘dig deeper’ into their initial figures, as they had ‘exclusive use’ of SITA UK’s MRF in Barking for 78 days (from 1 July 2012), and a ‘contractual requirement’ to track all waste to its end processes, which, the authors add, ‘many businesses in the UK do not do’.

The report outlines that though ‘93 per cent of all waste collected from London 2012 venues was taken to this site, tracking showed the true reuse, recycling and composting rate was 62 per cent’.

One of the authors of the report, Head of Sustainability at London 2012, David Stubbs, told Resource that he hoped the figures would be ‘useful knowledge legacy’ to those ‘trying to improve their recycling performance’.

David StubbsHe said: “Our reason [for this reporting choice] is one that applies across all our sustainability reporting – whether it’s on waste, carbon, supply chain issues, etc – we have always aimed to be as transparent as possible, so others can benefit from our experience. 

“In this case we recognise that we have had a special opportunity to delve into the detail of our recycling figures because the scale of the operation allowed us to have a dedicated facility operated for us at SITA’s MRF in Barking. 

“We recognise this casts a different lens on waste reporting, which is why we have given both the conventional and actual figures. We hope this is useful knowledge legacy for the waste management industry, major events and other businesses who are trying to improve their recycling performance.”

Data accounts for rejects ‘where possible’

Speaking in reaction to this critique, Matthew Farrow, Director of Policy at the Environmental Services Association, a trade association for the waste management industry, said: “Most waste processing and recycling operations produce some rejected material – this is necessary to ensure that the main output is of the requisite quality.

“Sometimes these ‘reject’ streams undergo other processing and may still end up being recycled, sometimes they will be sent to energy-from-waste plants or to landfill. Where possible, waste destination data should account for this to produce the most accurate picture, but given the complexity of waste streams this can be challenging.”

Report findings

Other figures from the report include:

  • 100 per cent of event operation waste was diverted from landfill;
  • 99 per cent of waste from installing and decommissioning Games venues was reused or recycled;
  • 92 per cent of operational waste was diverted from landfill in 2010 and 96 per cent in 2011;
  • A total of 15.5 million ‘sustainably sourced’ meals were served;
  • The Games had a total carbon footprint of 3.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (saving 400,000 tonnes against the reference footprint).

Writing in the foreword to the report, Chief Executive of LOCOG, Paul Deighton, said that he was ‘hugely proud’ that the Games ‘honoured’ their ‘ambitious sustainability commitments’ and ‘succeeded in raising the bar and setting new standards in so many areas’.

Read ‘The London 2012 Post-Games Sustainability Report: A legacy of change’.