OPINION: ‘Can the 2024 Olympics spark a global movement towards sustainable events?’

Jenny Wassenaar, chief sustainability officer and SVP global research and development, Trivium Packaging, discusses the importance of incorporating sustainability into sporting events.

OPINION: Have sporting events historically come at the cost of the earth? Research suggests so, with the UK Environment Agency estimating that major sporting events can generate up to 750,000 plastic bottles apiece.

But, the tide could be about to change with the Paris Olympics this summer. The upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games is committing to setting the standard for sustainable sporting events, aiming to reduce plastic use and its carbon footprint by 50%.

Events are generally ‘single-use’ by design or seen as ‘one-offs’, which can cause a significant amount of waste, leaving an impression on the planet far beyond the attendee’s memory of the day. The Olympics has a real opportunity to set the standard and make a real, lasting, change, to not just sporting events, but the event industry as a whole.

Start with zero waste

Zero waste is a brilliant place to start on any sustainability journey. To achieve this, all materials used should be reusable or locally recyclable, and the organisation has to be able to show how the materials are recycled.

Paris 2024, for example, has calculated its material footprint, which is reportedly a first for the Olympics. Paris has adopted the reuse and recycle mindset across every detail, from the seats, which are made from locally recycled plastic, to the stadiums that will be 95% pre-existing or temporary – avoiding the waste generated by brand new venues. According to organisers, 90% of the six million assets will be reused, and a second life is in the planning stage for the remaining 10%.

Aiming for zero waste should be a given in event planning. It is easily applicable and understandable for those who don’t have a sustainability background. Imperative to success is setting attainable goals – which are mapped out clearly in the planning stage and monitored throughout. If it can be done on an Olympic scale, event planners and sporting events can be reassured that what can sometimes seem impossible at first, is indeed very achievable with intentional decision-making.

Boosting circularity with infinitely recyclable materials

Due to its single-use nature, plastic packaging solutions have long been used at events – often due to its relative low costs. Finally, the world is waking up to the damage this packaging material causes to our ecosystems, threatening wildlife and polluting the planet.

Choosing to mandate food and beverage sellers at your event to use reusable and infinitely recyclable materials can significantly reduce your event’s waste. For example, metal can be recycled infinitely, and 80% ever used is still in existence today. In a hospitality setting, the advantage of metal versus plastic is that cups and cans can be collected for recycling after the event and remade into brand new ones, while during the event they can be rinsed and refilled. In addition, metal is durable and does not shatter which is a huge advantage compared to glass.

The Olympics, for instance, has committed to reducing single-use plastic in its catering by 50%, and 100% of its catering equipment will be used after the Games. In addition, its partners will install water and soda fountains throughout the games, encouraging people to reuse their bottles.

Creating everlasting events

Incorporating sustainability at the very beginning of an event is more important than ever, to ensure that we can enjoy events for years to come. The Olympics has taken sustainable event planning to the global stage, proving it can work. Making a stand such as this, really does inspire organisations globally, with lasting benefits. So, who’s next?

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