Green's the word

A factor in Sydney's winning bid for the Olympics was the eco- touch. SUMITRA SENAPATY looks at the measures adopted.

AUSTRALIA's biggest ever land clean up is taking place at Homebush Bay, Sydney's main Olympic Games venue. Homebush Bay has had a long industrial history. It has been the site for saltworks, an abattoir, brickworks, a naval armaments depot and a waste dump. Originally, it was part of a complex estuarine system consisting of forest, grasslands, waterways, salt marsh and mangrove wetlands providing habitat for plants and animals. Over 100 years, the area was degraded, first by land reclamation and later, by waste dumping. By 1988, most of the wetlands had been filled in and a diverse and beautiful environment transformed into ugly rubbish dumps and polluted waterways.

A gradual rehabilitation of wetlands is now evident. The old sea wall has been deliberately opened up allowing the tide to flush the salt marsh and wetlands once again. Fish and crab are returning and a plant nursery has been established for rare salt marsh species that are found in this area. Today, Homebush Bay's open spaces have reached the early stages of rehabilitation, a process that will surely continue for years to come.

Sydney's Green Olympics are the talk of Toronto, the Canadian city bidding for the 2008 Olympic Games. Sydney's winning Green bid set a minimum standard for environmental excellence that need to at least be matched by new Olympic bid cities. The environmental planning invested in an Olympic bid could benefit the city even if it did not win the Games. As the bid process progresses and environmental solutions are adopted as part of the project, they can also begin to influence other areas of policy and city planning.

Some 400,000 little volunteers are working hard at the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) Headquarters - all of them dedicated to the environmental effort. Unlike SOCOG's typical volunteers, these work 24 hours a day, can all fit within a one-and-a-half-square-metre work area, are hermophrodites and are very, very hungry (eating up to three-quarters of their own body weight every day).

They are, in fact, worms. Living off food waste, these worms - a mix of tiger worms and red worms - are helping SOCOG in its effort to reduce, reuse and recycle its waste. In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Games, the worms will chomp through tonnes of SOCOG waste, saving money on waste transport and disposal costs. The worm farm has been installed to show how the hi-tech corporate world can benefit from low-tech Green solutions. While upstairs, Olympic staffers tackle the complexities of staging a mega-dollar, global sporting event, downstairs the worms quietly get on with doing what comes naturally ... eating. The worm farm does not need daylight because the worms like the dark and once the system has been set up, the farm is very easy to manage.

Money is saved for every kilogram of waste that does not have to be sent to a landfill. It neither smells nor attracts mice or cockroaches because the worms eat all the waste material. At the same time, staff will be able to use the resulting vermicast, an excellent soil conditioner, to beautify their gardens.

Fifty per cent of the water needs of the Athletes' Village and Olympic venues will be meet by new water conservation measures. To achieve this, a dual water supply is being established. Drinking water will be freshly supplied, while stormwater and sewage effluent generated at Homebush Bay will be collected and treated on-site. Water will be reclaimed from stormwater treated in artificial wetlands and sewage treated in the water reclamation plant. This water will be piped to toilets and used in irrigation of landscaped areas at Homebush Bay. Already, almost half of the site's irrigation needs are being met by recycled stormwater.

Greenpeace welcomes the effort for water re-use but is concerned about the impact it could have on the rare Green and Golden Bell frogs now living in the open ponds, which are being used for water treatment. Considerable efforts have been made to ensure the survival of the frogs, providing them with new habitats, special fences and dedicated frog bridges. Frog experts from the Australian Museum have released information showing the Green and Golden Bell frog populations have doubled during the period of Olympic construction. The latest census estimates the population of the frog species in the ponds between 600 and 720 compared to the 1994 estimate of between 55 and 110.

Green vision and ideals will burn brightly in the low emission flames of the Olympic torch. The propane/butane power system will burn for 20 minutes, producing a flame that emits no smoke, can burn in strong winds (up to 65 kmph), and torrential rain. This is just as well because the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay will travel more than 27,000 km in 100 days and pass through every State and territory in Australia. The torch uses standard pressure pack containers that can be removed so that both the gas and the container can be recycled.

Packaged inside a design inspired by the Sydney Opera House, the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the subtle curve of the boomerang, the Olympic Relay Torch is sure to be remembered as a uniquely Australian symbol of the 2000 Games.

The torch arrived in Australia at Uluru in the Northern Territory on June 8, and Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris-Kneebone was the first Australian to carry the flame. Apart from being carried on foot by 10,000 torchbearers, the Olympic flame is currently travelling on a surf boat at Bondi Beach, crossing the Nullarbor Plains by train, on board a Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft in the remote outback and travelling by camel on Cable Beach at Broome.

Caring for the environment is a key theme for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Even spectators can help make the Games "green" .... Small actions by each person attending the Games will add up to a greener Games and a healthier environment.

The Sydney 2000 Games will create the highest demand for passenger transport ever seen in Australia. On the busiest days of the Olympic Games, up to 5,00,000 people will travel to the Sydney Olympic Park - imagine the congestion and extra air pollution if all the people attending the Games each day were to drive their own cars. Spectators will play a key role, in helping Sydney's air quality by taking a train or bus.

Managing waste is the most visible environmental issue, and it is the only one in which every single person is involved. It is pretty common to leave rubbish under the seat after watching the event. Unfortunately, it is typical behaviour at sporting events, but it is not the right thing to do. Rubbish should be put in the bin and that too, the right bin. In public areas there will be bin stations with three types of bins:

* a green bin with a yellow lid for drink containers - these will be recycled

* a maroon bin for food and paper - these will be composted and

* a black bin for other rubbish - for sending to the landfill.

Right rubbish, right bin ... If this basic rule is followed, almost all the waste produced during Sydney 2000 can be reprocessed, and very little sent to the landfill.

Merchandise bought at the Games, will have very little, if any, packaging. This is yet another way of reducing waste. Souvenirs would be durable too, so that they will not easily break. When you buy things at the Games, even if it is just a cup, think of it as a souvenir and keep it, rather than throwing it away.

The over-riding message Sydney has set is not to repeat examples of the past when all a city was left with after an Olympic Games was a billion dollar debt and a couple of new sporting arenas. Unless there is a net benefit to the environment and the community, we need to question the existence of the Games.

Using the Olympics as a catalyst for improvements to the environment has been one of Sydney's important environmental principles. Considering the effort and persistence involved in taking a fairly environmentally degraded site and turning it into a world class sporting facility, Sydney 2000 will be remembered as the "green games".

Recommended for you