Atlanta’s Olympics

How Green?

While the Olympic Games are trying to bring the nations of the world together in sport, the environment can suffer in several ways: from the need to construct and update event venues, from the sheer numbers of visitors during the two-week events (and the associated pollution from traffic), and from the waste that is left behind once the participants go home.

During the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, an estimated 10,000 tons of garbage will be generated—more than at any Olympics event in history—so an extensive recycling program has being designed. Visitors will recycle plastic cups, aluminum, organic food scraps and paper, saving on waste management costs and cutting down on the amount of landfill waste. Help will also come from Browning Ferris Industries (BFI), the world’s second largest waste hauler, which will transport garbage to an Olympic-sized recycling facility; and International Paper, which will collect and recycle all cardboard and office paper.

But not all the Olympic preparations have gone smoothly. The designation of Skidway’s Priest Landing as the yachting venue outraged some conservationists, who said intense construction activity would imperil a delicate ecological balance. Home to both freshwater and saltwater wetlands and one of the barrier islands stretching just beyond Savannah, the marine area (a habitat for alligators and manatees) is the site of a National Wildlife Refuge. Douglas Haynes, an attorney representing such interests as The Sierra Club and Atlanta Audubon, says, “It’s hard to figure why they wanted to place the site in a refuge when there were clearly other sites available.” After the case went to court, Olympic officials agreed to move the yachting site to another island with an existing private marina.

Transportation of the expected two million visitors became a serious issue. Local group Friends of Georgia challenged the Stone Mountain Park board of directors on its plans to build an incline to transport nearly 1,000 visitors an hour up Stone Mountain during Olympic festivities. Under the direction of Larry Winslett, Friends of Georgia’s cofounder, the board set aside some 65 percent of the park for natural wildlife, protecting it from most Olympic activities.

“The Olympics are something that Atlanta probably doesn’t understand,” says Winslett, who notes that, because of citizen action, the Olympic presence in the state park has been downsized to just three venues, none of them in sensitive areas. “This helps ease the impact,” said Winslett, “but I still feel that developing state parks for the Olympics is not a good idea.”