2012 London Olympics Sustainability — Recycling and Composting

Bottled WaterWatching athletes gulp down bottled water at the 2012 London Olympics Games got me thinking about recycling and waste reduction. Most Olympic spectators are probably not thinking about plastic bottle recycling. I have a fascination with recycling and waste reduction so had to investigate.

The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) Zero Waste Games Vision Plan published in February 2012 states a commitment to ensure that at least 70% (by weight), of operational waste is reused, recycled or composted.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In just the food and drink arena, imagine the potential mountain of waste that could be generated from disposable bottles, wrappers, cups, utensils, and uneaten food. Waste reduction strategies include:

  1. Reduce — the first line of defense is to avoid waste in the first place for instance,  eliminate or minimize packaging for take away food and drink items.
  2. Reuse — serve food in reusable dishes than can be washed and reused.
  3. Recycle — use recyclable and compostable packaging.

Packaging and Color Coding

LOCOG worked closely with Olympic Park catering operators and food and drink sponsors to ensure wrappings, containers, and utensils are either compostable or recyclable. Proper sorting and disposal is essential to successful composting and recycling.

Imagine trying to get an international audience speaking hundreds of different languages, with a kaleidoscope of cultures, scurrying between events, and focused on their team, to sort their “trash” into recyclable, compostable, and non-recyclable bins.

A color coding scheme was developed to assist visitors and LOCOG catering workers with determining what to dispose of where. Color coded bins with graphics are placed in groups around Olympic Park.

  • Olympic Recycle, Compost, Trash BinsOrange = Compostable for wrappings, containers, utensils, food waste
  • Green = Recyclable for plastic bottles, cups, meal trays, paper (limited glass and metal will be used at the Olympics)
  • Black = Non-recyclable in other words trash (will go to energy-from-waste facilities versus directly to a landfill)
  • Purple = Dedicated Recycling (e.g. rain ponchos)

The majority of packaging and consumable items available from LOCOG catering operations and at McDonald’s will have a color coded dot, icon or mark (orange, green, or black) as an additional visual clue to help visitors place disposables in the correct bin.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors

According to LOCOG, “The Games could not take place without sponsors. They play a huge role in supporting the Games and promoting sport, way beyond the core provisions of their service or product categories”. Food and drink sponsors were actively engaged in developing and implementing waste reduction plans for the 2012 London Games. A few examples related to food and drink served at Olympic Park are listed below:

Coca-Cola (exclusive provider of hot and cold non-alcoholic beverages)

  • Packaged Coca-Cola products will be served in recyclable PET bottles and contain up to 25% recycled content.
  • Coca-cola, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero drinks will be served in bottles that contain up to 22.5% plant-based material.
  • In a joint venture with ECO Plastics, Coca-Cola has made a commitment to recycle all PET bottles collected in London 2012 venues and turn them back into new bottles within 6 weeks of being discarded.

McDonald’s (exclusive branded retail restaurant)

  • Aligned packaging and consumable items with LOCOG guidelines.
  • McDonald’s locations will have color coded icons or marks to match the color coded  (orange, green, black) bins.
  • McDonald’s has committed to provide daily mobile litter patrols to collect any litter around their Olympic Park restaurants.

Heineken (exclusive pouring rights for beer and cider at venues where alcohol is served)

  • A PET plastic bottle was developed for the Games and includes a recycling message.
  • In venues where a draught system is available, product will be served in recyclable plastic cups.


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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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