Where there's brass, silver and gold ... there's also muck
The great Olympics clean-up challenge
“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.
In Cardiff, where the Millennium Stadium will be hosting football, the Chewing Gum Action Group (we are not making this up) recently handed out free wrappers to encourage Welsh chewers not to spit their gum onto the street. We don’t know what they did with the wrappers.
To drum up support for Cardiff’s war on gum, a local reporter used street-attached gum blobs as tiny stepping stones to lope from the railway station to Cardiff Castle. If you don't have tickets for the football, we cannot think of a better way to enjoy yourself in Cardiff this summer.
Used gum is not all bad: it has the property of making smoke particles stick to it. So it appears that by contrast with Cardiff, London doesn’t have enough gum on its streets because it has world-beating amounts of exhaust fumes.
London's airborne rubbish contributes to pollution levels that, for some types of particle, are now as bad as those in Beijing in 2008.
A specially adapted gritting lorry is spreading adhesive on our busiest streets to glue pollution to the ground, so be careful where you take a nap if you miss the last tube home. You can see Mayor Johnson’s Pollution Suppressor in action here.
Food for thought
The catering operation, where the clean-up problem is only just beginning, also gives rise to some Olympic-style remarkable statistics.
This is the world’s largest ever peacetime catering operation, which means the Olympics will create a big pile of food rubbish too.
Locog tells us that, quite apart from the stadia, there will be – numberbomb! - 800 spectator concessions featuring more than 150 types of dishes that “will showcase the great diversity and quality of British food".
The reputation abroad of British food partly accounts for the second part of the statement: “There will be 8,000 tonnes of waste, and 40 per cent of this will be food/food-contaminated.”
We are accustomed to seeing pictures of the Olympics organisers standing in front of the stadium in suits or being matey on the news with Jessica Ennis. But there has to be someone behind the scenes to make sure we don’t notice the mess we have made.
The Olympics "Rubbish Czar" is Jan Matthews, head of catering, cleaning and waste. She is in charge of 22,000 contractors, delivering 14 million meals between June and September and removing – stat attack! – 712 cubic litres of horse manure.
When she visited Vancouver two years ago for the Winter Olympics, the scale of the waste removal operation there persuaded this Red Adair of equine dung to get in training for the job and shed seven stone.
This means that if one of our relay runners were to eat a dodgy curry, she could undoubtedly step in at a moment’s notice on the anchor leg.
What a story! It would make Chariots of Fire seem like an afternoon playing gum hopscotch in Cardiff. ®