Monday, 15 February 2010

Recycling, Olympic-style

Recycling centers, Whistler, BC

Waste management for events can be tough for event planners. Destination cities can help by providing recycling and composting programs as standard and tracking recycling rates for the city and major venues.

Anyone who has planned an event recycling program knows that recycling station design a critical success factor. Do you co-mingle recyclables, or sort them? Are stations accessible? Are they visually consistent so they stand out and attendees can spot them easily? Is streaming the same everywhere, or do some stations sort recyclables while some co-mingle? Is signage clear so attendees know how to recycle?

Doing this inside one venue is one thing, but trying to do it across multiple venues and multiple cities for one event is down-right mind-boggling! That is the challenge presently underway in Vancouver as event organizers try to address the increased waste footprint resulting from the Olympics.

In the City of Vancouver 200 temporary recycling stations have been added to the Downtown core, apparently using a co-mingled approach. The City of Vancouver has designated a $500,000 grant to United We Can to employ 70 residents of the Downtown Eastside to collect recyclables from these receptacles at a rate of $10/hour. For a city known for its 'green' image the fact the program is a temporary measure for the Olympics is rather disappointing.
Temporary recycling centers, Downtown Vancouver, BC
Recycling on the left, trash on the right

In the City of North Vancouver, which is a major transportation hub for alpine events, local government has taken a different tactic, using streamed recycling centers that also include composting. Again, recycling in outdoor public spaces is a temporary measure in this case, sadly.
Sorted recycling centers, North Vancouver, BC

In the case of Whistler they have had to do very little work to prepare for onsite waste management for the Olympic Games. For years the resort has had recycling centers, including a special 'bear proof' design (image above).

It is clear from a look into receptacles that despite best efforts on the part of municipalities and organizers that attendees are not recycling or composting correctly.

Contaminated recycling centre, Downtown Vancouver

Recycling streams are contaminated and people clearly have no idea what is compostable or not. In this respect the United We Can program is proving very effective in ensuring at least containers are removed from the stream. You'll notice no containers in the photo above which was recently mined by binners. Paper, on the other hand, is a different story.

In defense of organizers, the best way to deal with this situation is to designate volunteers at recycling centers, however, think of magnitude of such a program! 200 stations, all day, for 16 days at least. That's over 40,000 volunteer hours for Downtown Vancouver alone, not to mention the cost to organize, train and outfit volunteers. And that is not including other municipalities, or inside venues.

Indeed reduction seems the best alternative!


Anonymous said...

Shawna, I support your theory that people are attracted to "clean"--this makes sense to me. I also agree with your column and the importance of recycling. What disappoints me is greenwash--VANOC claims high 80% "diversion" rate for the garbage generated during the Games. To do this, VANOC struck a deal with MetroVancouver to have ALL their waste burned at the Burnaby incinerator. Anyone who takes the time to read a bit about waste incineration knows that it takes more energy to create and burn the waste than can be "recovered" in a "waste-to"energy" facility--no to speak to the air pollution it generates (GHGs, nanoparticulates, etc...). Hence Paul Hawken's term for waste incineration: "waste to entropy". I'm all for green games, but not so much for greenwash. More at

Shawna McKinley said...

Thanks for the feedback and additional information to shed more light on the issue. Hope the follow-up post inspires more thought about the issue you raise among event planners.