The varying shades of green at the Games

One bag of garbage. That’s all breakfast, lunch and supper — about 6,000 sloppy paper plates in all — generated at the Canada…

One bag of garbage.

That’s all breakfast, lunch and supper — about 6,000 sloppy paper plates in all — generated at the Canada Winter Games athletes’ village on the first Monday.

Twenty-five bags of leavings were collected and sent to the Whitehorse compost heap.

Fourteen bags of plastic water bottles, forks and spoons were sent to Raven Recycling.

Through the use of 900 compost, plastic bottle and garbage bins, the first day’s massive diversion of trash from the Whitehorse landfill set the tone for each day of the Games.

Credit must really go to “the green team,” a small group of volunteers led by Johanna Smith and Mike Ellis.

The environmental team was determined to make this Games the most green ever.

The target: divert 60 per cent of what would normally be passed off as garbage into compost or recycling.

The team looks on track for a gold.

“Our capes are coming later,” joked Smith as she explained the success of the $75,000 program.

“At other Games they’ve had composting but it has been limited to food production or cafeteria areas,” she said. “What we’ve been able to do is have it comprehensive across every venue.”

There are three bins at every station, which are placed throughout venues and in some washrooms.

A few stations also feature paper-recycling posts.

Once the bins are full, committed volunteers don gloves and sift the contents to make sure things that are compostable or recyclable go in the appropriate directions.

“It takes person-power to sort all those bins,” said Ellis. “It’s a lot less labour intensive if you just chuck it all in one. So, often, that’s what we see.”

Bins near teams of broadcasters are the worst, said Smith.

Someone had to explain to the fast-food-loving television crews that pizza boxes were compostable.

Team Nova Scotia is the most green of the provinces, she added.

The team led to a change in trash policies at the Games after athletes told officials that disposable coffee cups (which seem to be everywhere in latte-happy Whitehorse) are also compostable.

All of the collected compost is taken to the Whitehorse compost facility.

Raven Recycling gets the refundable bottles, and could provide the recycling contract at a cut-rate price as a result.

After the Games, the bins will be distributed throughout Whitehorse neighbourhoods as part of a pilot project aimed at increasing composting and recycling diversion, said Smith.

Reducing landfill expansion is a “cold-hard-cash example” of green power, said Ellis.

But measures taken during the Games still cost money.

“The more options you provide, it does cost more,” said Smith. “We still are having to pay for someone to collect the recycling and the compost and the waste.

“So, we’re not necessarily seeing a huge economic benefit because we are having the three options. But, in terms of the lasting legacy, it definitely is an important factor.”

The other (mostly) green side of the Games is transportation.

Whitehorse is a bastion of fossil fuel culture: visit the Wal-Mart parking lot in the summer if you don’t agree.

But car-lovers have become public transit riders overnight.

“I’ve been impressed with how well Whitehorse residents bought into public transportation during Games time,” said Smith.

“There was a lot of emphasis on the fact that parking was limited and bus service was going to be effective and, you know, that the bus is free, so use it. I think we really bought into that.

“Maybe that will let people know that the bus isn’t such a bad choice and it’s something that could work for them in the future.”

Whitehorse certainly hopes so. It is encouraged by the numbers it has seen during the Games, said transit manager Dave Muir.

“We’ve seen huge increases in ridership,” said Muir.

During the first week of extended bus service, which saw routes travelled twice as often as usual and at half-hour intervals, there was a stunning 230-per-cent increase in the number of passengers taking the bus.

A continuous fleet of seven buses has been running from 6:50 a.m. to 11 p.m. since February 19.

“I would think the service was usable, user friendly and well advertised,” said Muir of the increase.

“People knew parking would be difficult or almost impossible; I think citizens took advantage of the system.

“We’ll be applying what worked and what didn’t to design a system for the future for the city; that’s the next thing after the Games,” said Muir.

“We hope to have a report back to council by sometime in May.”

It isn’t known yet how much the increased service cost or how much extra revenue it has generated, he said.

Where has the Games fallen short?

Water is one example.

Each athlete at the Games — and there are about 3,000 of them — has been given a single-serving water bottle by Shoppers Drug Mart, an official sponsor.

Whitehorse doesn’t have water-quality issues. But it now has a lot of extra plastic water bottles.

“We’ve seen, in some cases, athletes don’t drink the whole bottle of water so we’re having to recycle half- or three-quarter-full water bottles, which is unfortunate,” said Smith.

“We’ve seen a lot of water end up in the recycling bin, which some of us feel is a waste of resources. You know, it’s been trucked up here from Outside and then we’re just going to recycle it again.”

The decision was made to give athletes individual bottles due to health concerns of shared water towers at venues, despite a bit of pressure from the green team.

Breaking down the plastic-coated boxes the 200,000 or so water bottles have been shipped in has taken big amounts of volunteer time, said Ellis.

And then there’s the torch at the Games Centre.

The torch burns 60 litres of propane per hour; a typical house uses about one litre per hour.

After burning for the entire 16 days of the Games, the torch will consume 23,040 litres of propane.

Propane produces about 1.5 kilograms of C02 per litre when burned.

That adds up to 34,560 kilograms of C02 from the torch alone.

For comparison, that’s roughly the amount of C02 16 economy cars, driven an average of 12,000 kilometres, would produce in a year.

And don’t even talk about the dozens of plane flights used to ferry kids to and from Whitehorse.

Smith and Ellis nod their heads when confronted with the question. There’s only so much green they can create.

“We decided to focus on the things that were of the most impact to Whitehorse and the Yukon, as well as some of the things we had control over and were able to make an impact on,” said Smith.

“Waste was where we were able to focus our energy and have a lasting impact.”

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