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.


Related Posts:

2012 London Olympics Sustainability — Feeding the Masses

Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes at an event like the 2012 London Olympics? How about just feeding the athletes, staff, and visitors?

The 2012 London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) likened staging the Olympics to putting on 46 World Championships simultaneously.

The world-wide stage of the Olympics offers a unique opportunity to not only provide healthy, good tasting food to millions, it is a once-in-2-years chance to educate a huge audience on the importance food sustainability plays in keeping people and the planet healthy.

Free Water

When I read that free water would be available inside Olympic venues, I had two thoughts. One, “I remember when free drinking water was a given in public places”, and two, “that’s good, people won’t have to buy bottled water”. According to organizers, the 2012 London Olympics is the first Games in recent times to offer free drinking water.

USA Olympics Stainless Steel Water BottleNow days, large public venues often have restrictions on liquids that can be brought in and the 2012 London Olympics is no different. Liquids are restricted to 100 ml (3.3 U.S. fluid ounces) each and a maximum of 10 containers. Empty water bottles and reusable bottles are allowed. Seems like a good opportunity to buy a useful souvenir like a USA Olympic reusable water bottle.

Food Vision

According to the LOCOG Food Vision Plan published in December 2009, “it is anticipated that more than 14 million meals will be served in 40 different locations over the course of the Games.” The numbers are staggering.


There are literally millions of people to feed from athletes needing “3 square meals a day” to visitors just wanting a quick snack.

  • 31 competition venues
  • 955 competition sessions
  • 160,000 work force
  • 23,900 athletes and team officials
  • 20,600 broadcasters and press
  • 4,800 Olympic and Paralympic family
  • 9 million ticket sales


Here are some estimates for just the Olympic Village.

  • 31 tonnes of poultry items
  • More than 100 tonnes of meat
  • 75,000 litres of milk
  • 19 tonnes of eggs
  • 21 tonnes of cheese
  • More than 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables

Tonne = 1,000 kilograms (2,204.6 pounds), known as a metric ton in the U.S.

The Plan

Feeding millions of people is a massive undertaking. Food and drink safety is critical. Athletes and visitors alike want and need food and drink choice and balance. Food sourcing and supply chain must assure food is where it’s supposed to be when it’s supposed to be there. Environmental management is a key to meeting ever increasing sustainability standards for Olympic Games. Employing local people and teaching skills is not only important for pulling off the plan but leaving a legacy after the Games are over.

A few aspects of the Food Vision Plan I found of interest include:

Red Tractor

Olympic food caterers and vendors will be supplied with fresh, local, and seasonal food by Red Tractor farmers.

Red Tractor AssuranceRed Tractor is a food assurance program in the United Kingdom for produce, crops (like grain), meat, and poultry. Their goals are food safety, animal welfare, environmentally responsible farming methods, local sourcing, traceability, and rigorous standards.

Marine Stewardship Council

Seafood served at the Olympics must meet Marine Stewardship Council (or similar) standards. That includes McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global organization that developed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. MSC provides certification for seafood that meets their standards.


Bananas, tea, coffee, and sugar at the Olympics will be Fairtrade.

Fairtrade BananasThe purpose of the Fairtrade organization is to provide greater equity in international trade especially for the people actually growing the food. Better conditions for people help encourage sustainable development which is good for people and the planet.


Related Posts: