Thursday, 18 February 2010

Olympic Recycling Follow-up

Many thanks to Zero Waste Blog for providing some more insight on Vancouver 2010 Games recycling. Comments on this post contain an important lesson for all event managers when it comes to destination selection and interpreting what is meant by 'diversion' from landfill.

I recently had a conversation with a conference center manager about their diversion rate. Their initial response: "We divert 95% of materials."

"To where?"

"Well, about 20% goes into our kitchen composting program that is picked up by a local pig farmer. 10% is recycled paper, cardboard and beverage containers. About 4% is landscaping compost. We have about 61% that is waste to energy. 5% is construction and debris which we landfill."

"Waste to energy?"

"We have an incineration facility that burns it as a power source."

Incineration is a highly controversial form of waste diversion from landfill. It is important for meeting professionals who are trying to measure sustainability meaningfully to know the issues related to burning of waste for energy, which include increased emissions, local air pollution and impacts on human health. Granted, recycling and composting have corresponding environmental impacts, there are many who feel reduction, reuse, recycling and composting are a higher order of environmentally responsible action and should be pursued as priority.

Event managers would likely be surprised how many destinations and venues cite incineration as part of their diversion rate. More and more cities, states and provinces are also looking to pursue incineration where allowances are being made to label it 'renewable energy'. These trends make it so important to acquire clear information about this issue from your destination, and determine a position on it. I have opted to not include incineration in event diversion metrics, feeling that - as the commenter has suggested - it provides a skewed perception about event waste and can be construed as greenwashing. So in the example above, I opt to use 34% as the diversion rate, rather than the 95%.

Lesson learned: dig deeper and ask questions about what is meant by diversion. Make sure you understand the issues and reflect your diversion as accurately and transparently as possible.


Anonymous said...

Sarah, how can I get New Orleans added to your list of green cities?


Shawna McKinley said...

You're welcome to email me directly with information about your sustainable destination initiatives: