Calling an event that entails hundreds of thousands of people flying to a remote region in Russia “sustainable” is always a stretch of the imagination. But tons of carbon from airplane emissions aside, Russia is facing new criticism that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are falling far short of the original green pitch.
The latest concerns are over reports from the Associated Press that Russia’s state-owned rail monopoly is dumping tons of construction waste into illegal landfills. The landfills, just north of Sochi are in an area classified as a water protection zone. The dumping may lead to contamination of the groundwater supply of all of Sochi. This, despite the fact that Russia promised the cleanest games ever, thanks in part to a “Zero Waste” program that pledged not to add to landfills.
Keeping waste out of landfills was also the centerpiece of the London 2012 Summer Olympics green pledge. Landfills remain in the spotlight because they are the single greatest source of anthropogenic methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with about 30 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
The waste is coming from Russian Railways construction of a 30-mile highway and railroad to link the airport and Alpine Olympic venues. This piece of infrastructure has already cost $8.2 billion.
Rashid Alimov, coordinator of the toxic waste program at Greenpeace Russia, told the A.P. that “the Zero Waste program is not being implemented in Sochi.” He said Sochi authorities are interpreting “Zero Waste” to mean getting waste out of sight.
Villagers who have complained about the illegal dump have been told that it has been closed, despite daily evidence to the contrary.
In 1996, the International Olympic Committee declared that environmental protection would become the “third pillar” of the Olympic movement, alongside sport and culture. The Vancouver winter games of 2010, were recognized as the first games to prioritize sustainability. London 2012 followed and set a new bar for environmental concienciousness by diverting 97 percent of construction waste from landfills and using recycled materials in many of the main sporting venues.
This latest report is by no means the first time Russia has been accused of not living up to its Olympic sustainability promises.
Environmental Watch on North Caucasus has been outspoken in its criticism. According to the group, the Mzymta River valley has been deforested and toxic waste dumped into the river. Territories of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage site have been removed from World Heritage protection, natural heritage sites are being destroyed, and crushed-stone quarries are being mined in the reserve areas of the Sochi National Park.