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Gearing up for Olympic-sized garbage problem breeds new ways to cut waste

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VANCOUVER, B.C. - Olympic organizers talk a lot about leaving behind positive legacies from the 2010 Winter Olympics, but when it comes to garbage, they want to leave nothing behind at all.

The organizing committee, governments and sponsors are all committed to making sure the history of Vancouver's Olympics won't be a new layer in area landfills.

Organizers estimate the operation of the Games will generate about 4,530 tonnes of waste between September of 2009 and May 2010.

By comparison, the entire Metro Vancouver area generates about 9,000 tonnes of waste per day.

Organizers are aiming to divert at least 85 per cent of Games waste away from landfills through an aggressive recycling and reuse strategy.

Sponsors and local governments are exploring diversion options of their own.

Major Games sponsor Coca-Cola has announced it doesn't want to see a single one of its bottles in the garbage during the Games and it plans to divert 95 per cent of the garbage generated by its operations out of landfills.

They'll be setting up their own recycling kiosks at all venues and promoting a give-it-back campaign.

"We're trying to demonstrate the value of the package and after they've used the package, there is still value in it," said Dave Moran, communications director for Coca-Cola.

"It can be turned into packages in the future, it can be turned into clothing."

It's not just product that generates waste during an Olympics, but the materials used to sell them.

Thousands of advertising billboards, kiosks and Olympic-branded items will sprout up in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., much of it useful only for the period of the Olympics.

Millions are also being spent on what's known as the "look of the Games" - banners and other signage with Olympic logos and slogans that will decorate the host cities and venues.

After the Games, some of it may be sold through the organizing committee's asset disposal program, and some will go to museums and archives.

But there will also be piles of promotional material crated by organizers, sponsors and governments with nowhere to go.

The risk is the creation of what Amelia Ufford calls "brandfill" - a layer of garbage in a landfill than can directly be attributed to a local event because of specific branding.

"The thing is, marketing is one of the most wasteful industries in North America. The reason is quite simple - marketing is about new, and innovation and creativity," she said.

"There's a lot of things we've already produced that could be reused and repurposed."

Her company, de.brand, works with other companies to strip their logos and other brand marks off promotional materials and then finding new uses for the remaining parts.

Ufford is currently working with some-Games related companies to try and convince them to sign on to their concept and says she's getting good feedback.

In addition to Games operations and sponsor activites, there will be the trash created by the thousands of spectators, athletes and media.

City officials say they expect the kind of garbage to be similar to what they see during every tourist season in Vancouver or during large events like the annual fireworks festival - a lot of fast food waste.

"(These events) are not on the same scale of what will happen during the Games but similar in terms of the type of work that will have to be provided and services that will have to be provided," said Chris Underwood, a solid waste engineer with the city of Vancouver.

Underwood said he hopes the aggressive promotion of recycling by organizers will help ease the crunch but since the city's garbage collection is mostly for residents, the workers who will be the busiest during the Games are street-cleaning crews.

A plan for how they'll tackle Olympic trash will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Private garbage collection companies like BFI Canada say they're also working on their own Games-times strategies.

Restaurants and hotels will likely need garbage pick-up far more often while at the same time, trucks will have to contend with a network of road closures and parking restrictions.

"My sense is we'll just kind of reorganize our routes, send more trucks down early and then everybody will go to other areas later in the day," said Joe Rajotte, vice-president of the B.C. region for BFI Canada.

The trucking industry is also lobbying for a relaxation of Vancouver's noise bylaws that would allow them to run services late at night.

Up in Whistler, B.C., garbage collection isn't going to be much different than a busy winter season, said Owen Carney, whose company picks up waste from both residences and companies in the village.

"There's going to be more, but not an enormous amount," said Carney.

"We can handle it."

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