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With the post games report published by The Commission for a Sustainable London, it has been announced that we have achieved the most sustainable games ever, what did they do with all the waste?


Firstly, it is important to look back at the targets and commitments that were set before the Olympic Games started, the targets in relation to waste were:

  1. No waste arising during the 77-day Games period will be sent directly to landfill (zero waste to landfill).
  2. Treat all waste as a potential resource and ensure that at least 70% of Games-time waste will be reused, recycled or composted.

Additional targets were set, these included utilising food catering packaging systems that maximise the potential for recycling and composting and also, minimising the potential for contamination and ultimately – disposal involving a single-stream material approach for bottles and other food catering packaging items.

Looking at the targets set it is clear that the road to achieving these targets was a complicated one, therefore look at the report we would like to discuss the processes needed to meet the zero waste to landfill target, decisions around waste segregation and the processes that took place at the Barking waste facility.

Spectators to the Olympic Games couldn’t miss the bin systems, an innovative design where consumers could separate waste into three sections: recyclable, residual and compostable.

The bins were different colours with matching bin bags and the residual waste bin was designed to be the smallest. The most innovative idea must be that the food packaging was colour coded to match which bin they should go into.

This three source separation approach was previously trialled at test events and was mainly used at the front-of-house; coloured wheelie bins were used in workforce areas. Where these bins were not applied a three bag holder was used, some venues relied on existing waste management systems and did not fully implement LOCOG’s streaming approach.

Overall, the bins were used appropriately by the public, there was a shortage of residual waste bins across all venues however, the bins were a topic of conversation for many spectators and they were often seen observing the signs to see which bin they should be using.

A number of factors may have contributed to the areas in which high contamination levels occurred, including the lack of assistance for spectators, the lack of clear signage on bag holders, potential confusion caused by items which were neither recyclable nor compostable and the relatively small size of signage on food packaging and on the bins themselves.

The source-separation approach appeared to work sufficiently well for it to be refined and reapplied at future major events.

In regards to littering, LOCOG has already engaged cleaning contractors to pick litter and to empty bins at every venue, in most cases bins were emptied well within time. There was very little littering by spectators with the exception of the food area at Box Hill throughout the games period.

There are many reasons for the small amount of littering, there were restrictions on the amount of food that could be brought into the venues, the waste disposal was very clear and the information booklets which spectators received with their tickets also requested that they take their rubbish with them.

It is clear that the food we eat also plays a role in littering, as the packaging needs to be disposed of, the packaging guidelines promised that all food packaging for the Games would be compostable or recyclable and using a single waste stream where possible.

According to the report the waste disposal system back of house (the areas where customers were not able to go) were in line with the waste separation system.

All banners, flags and hoardings were designed to be reused or recycled; LOCOG appointed ICON to manage the decommissioning of this ‘look and feel’ overlay materials and other materials used in overlay.

Many instances were photographed of scrim being placed into the residual waste stream rather than being taken away by ICON for reprocessing. LOCOG became aware of this issue early in the transition period between the Olympics and Paralympic Games and pursued the contractor to ensure ICON met its contractual conditions.

We await the final waste figures to determine whether LOCOG has been able to meet its target of 70% of waste to be reused or recycled.

According to the report they also observed the logistical operations for supplying the villages, the venues and the non-competition venues with food, water, materials and commodities.

LOCOG worked early with its partners to reduce waste arising from the logistics work-stream. This included:

  • dematerialising packaging for commodities such as furniture;
  • hiring or leasing as much equipment as possible;
  • keeping all packaging material so that goods could be repacked after  the Games for their onward journey.

The waste contractor appointed by LOCOG 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 was sent for incineration or for treatment.

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. Feedback from the waste contractor was also provided to venues to improve source separation practices.

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 learning’s 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.

LOCOG has demonstrated the benefit of all parties working under a collaborative framework to achieve the best results.

The approach to waste taken by LOCOG represents a significant investment for the events industry and for future Olympic and Paralympic Games.


Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 Post-Games Report

LOCOG – The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games