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Where there's brass, silver and gold ... there's also muck

The great Olympics clean-up challenge

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“Danny Boyle wants to give the impression of 'British countryside' at the opening of the Olympic Games, but he appears to have missed out a few items,” writes Ann McLachlan of South Lanarkshire in the letters page of the Daily Express.

“Where is the graffiti-decorated bus shelter? The burst mattress at the field gate? The endless stream of plastic bottles and polystyrene food boxes?”

It falls to us to deal with this question: we read the Express so you don’t have to.

The first answer is that, as anyone who has lived in Stratford will know, thousands of people have spent months getting rid of all the filth. Dedicating themselves to this truly Olympian task, they have given up their weekends to de-litter the London Borough of Newham.

The second answer is that much of the rubbish will soon be returning and that thousands more people will pick it up before going back to their temporary huts and queueing for a shower.

These are the professionals. The contract for cleaning up the stadia and park went to Cleanevent, which is part of Spotless International Services, an Australian company under the direction of chief executive Craig Lovett.

A dirty business

Cleanevent has been sweeping up Olympic Games, football stadia, racecourses and events all over the world for years. In keeping with the international flavour of the Olympics, its 4,000 cleaners too are coming from far and wide.

The recruitment ad Cleanevent has run on its website makes it sound like a bit of lark, with questions like: “Want to make friends for life? Want to have fun while you work? Want to work on the world's largest sporting event?”

But the the cleaners who arrived in early July, according to the Daily Mail, discovered that Cleanevent has a broad definition of “fun”.

The workers are housed in Camp Cleanevent, a temporary collection of leaky mobile homes a few hundred metres from the Olympic stadium. Ten people share a room, 25 a toilet and 75 a shower unit, the paper said. Some workers came, saw and decided they preferred to go home.

The local volunteers don’t get paid but they don't have to live in a dormitory either. They have been cleaning up for months because the Stratford area of London is no stranger to junk.

Volunteers from Fremantle Media, Lloyds TSB and Morgan Stanley joined residents on the big cleanup along Ron Leighton Way in East Ham. Pic credit: George Monck, CleanupUK

With the highest unemployment rate in London (14 per cent), it gives residents the chance to wander along to Lee Valley Park and drop a McDonald’s carton into an abandoned tyre. The hours must fly by.

As a result, the Olympic Park is a shiny new construction in the middle of a bit of a mess. Many of the surrounding canals and streets have been tidied, but, as the BBC found recently, east London has still not lost its edge – if you consider broken stuff edgy.

The Capital Clean Up campaign, among others, has been organising voluntary clean-up events designed to rob the Daily Express's letter writers of the pleasure of seeing pictures of rubbish as part of the Olympic TV coverage. The Newham Recorder regularly covers the clean-ups.

The Games have sparked a national boom in tidying stuff up

In fairness to Newham, without the rubbish its canals are lovely. And, at the time of writing, they still feature some of the most creative graffiti in London.

As for the rest of the country, if spring cleaning were an Olympic event the UK would be in with a chance of medals. The Games have sparked a national boom in tidying stuff up, as you will have noticed if you live anywhere the torch relay has staged a photo opportunity.

Community volunteers clean up Victoria Park at Tower Hamlets, London.

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