Zero Waste Policy at Olympic Games Closes the Recycling Loop

Gold medal around neck

Several million people have gathered for the 2012 Olympic Games in London: athletes, trainers, coaches, doctors, media, organizers … and lots and lots of spectators. Ever wonder what happens to all the trash they create? The Games’ organizers this year have adopted a zero-waste policy: food waste will be composted; plastic bottles, cups and meal trays will be recycled; and the remainder will used to create energy to power homes.

Partners in the Olympics’ Zero Waste Policy

Recycling all those plastic bottles will be quite a feat. Through a partnership between Coca-Cola Enterprises and UK recycler ECO Plastics, all clear PET plastic beverage bottles from event venues will be processed at a new, state-of-the-art recycling center as part of the zero-waste policy. These bottles—expected to constitute a fifth of all waste at the Games—will be recycled into an estimated 80 million new bottles … all within six weeks, according to the Games’ organizers.

Zero Waste Policy Leads to Recycled Plastic Uniforms

Truly impressive—but creating bottles from bottles is only one way to recycle. Here’s another way the Games are helping close the recycling loop: many of this year’s athletes are wearing high-tech uniforms made with plastics from recycled bottles. World-class athletes wearing plastics from old bottles? That’s right—high-performance meets sustainability.

For example, the Netherlands soccer team’s shorts and jerseys are made with 100 percent and 96 percent recycled plastics, respectively—each uniform contains the equivalent of approximately 13 plastic bottles. The plastic fabrics allows the uniform to weigh 23 percent less than four years ago, and it helps wick away sweat to help keep athletes cooler and dryer, according to Nike.

In addition, the USA and several other basketball teams will wear jerseys made with recycled plastic fabrics—each contains the equivalent of 22 bottles. Nike says the jerseys are the lightest they have ever made. The USA team’s shorts are also made with lightweight recycled polyester and weigh in at only five ounces each.

This year’s USA track uniforms have drawn a great deal of media attention regarding sustainability and design. The sleek, full-length bodysuit is made with the equivalent of 13 recycled plastic bottles, and Nike says it can shave up to 0.023 seconds over 100 meters compared to its previous track uniform. The company conducted more than 1,000 hours of wind tunnel testing to create a comfortable, aerodynamic uniform to reduce drag—made primarily from recycled plastics.

Zero Waste Policy Extends to Buildings

In addition to uniforms, the organizers have turned to innovations in plastics and design to help support the zero waste policy and reduce the environmental impact of the new buildings for the Games. For example, some of the structures can be dismantled and reused. The building that houses the Olympic basketball court uses scaffolding and a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic membrane. The structure can be dismantled, transported, and reassembled at another location after the Games are over.

A zero waste policy. Uniforms made with recycled plastics. Reusable buildings. Looks like this year’s Games are inspiring for more than the athletics.