Friday, August 3, 2012

Sustainability at the Olympics: What happens to all the pommel horse manure?

Above: A Japanese gymnast narrowly misses a large pile of pommel horse manure after dismounting from the pommel horse. Gymnasts lose points for coming in contact with the manure. Clean up crews have had a difficult time keeping pace with the absurd amount of solid waste produced by the pommel horse.

London--The host of the Summer Olympics has yet to miss an opportunity to remind viewers and visitors that this 2012 version of the games is the most sustainable ever. Yes, even more so than the 1948 London games, in which the city constructed no new venues when it welcomed the world shortly after WWII ended.

Solar panels provide power for lighting the ExCel Center where fencing and table tennis competitions are held. Geothermal eases the energy demand for climate control in the Basketball Arena. And, roof-mounted wind turbines give life to Earls Court, a 20,000-seat arena, home to the volleyball matches. The city planted over 30,000 new trees near the gleaming sporting venues, which reduces the amount of stormwater runoff destine for the Lee River, a tributary of the Thames, and the Hertford Union Canal. Giant rain barrels strategically placed throughout the park provide water for the elaborate, royal-like (and very thirsty) gardens dotting the landscape.

But it doesn't end there.

So green are these Olympics that the pommel horse manure, usually discarded into a local landfill or discreetly (or often not so discreetly) unloaded into a nearby waterway of a host city, is being recycled and stored energy extracted to lessen the demand on the power grid.

Four years ago, Beijing dumped over three million tons of pommel horse manure into the moat surrounding the Forbidden City and the far-away Yangtze River at the conclusion of the games. In 2004, an economically-challenged Greece called on (pleaded?) other European nations to accept some of the manure produced by the apparatus. And, in 2000, the Australian government disposed of the pommel horse manure by, first rounding up, then filling the pouches of thousands of kangaroos, who then hopped into the expansive Outback.

These cities are kicking themselves now after seeing what London has done with pommel equine droppings. "Beijing considered harnessing the power but never followed through," said Hillary Cartwright, an engineer with Cooper-Sinclair, an energy consulting company that worked closely with the British government when planning the summer games. "One piece of manure can power a four-inch flat screen television for twenty-seven seconds. We thought, 'Imagine what tons of manure can do?'"
Above: Predicting when the pommel horse will relieve itself has been a real headache for gymnastics organizers. 

"Pommel horse manure is just a simple fact of the Olympics," said Gary Thomas, London 2012 vice president of sustainability. "We knew this when we bid for the games and we wanted to find a suitable use for the, excuse my language, horse shit. We think we did."

The pommel horse manure is being used to fuel the entire Olympic Village, the compact city within a city in East London's Olympic Park, where the athletes call home during the two-week competition. During breaks between performances, the manure is gathered from beneath the pommel horse by local homeless volunteers in three-gallon, Union Jack-emblazoned buckets, brought to the loading dock of North Greenwich Arena, then transported by container truck to the Olympic Village Dung Power Generating Plant, located along the north side of the high-rise residential towers near Temple Mills Lane.

Each piece of manure is first oven baked, then crumbled by hand into "small bits" by the the volunteers, and dumped into a cauldron of boiling water by way of a rapidly-moving conveyor belt. That's all the stingy British Olympic Committee (B.O.C.) will divulge in the crap-to-power process. However, the B.O.C. stated that there are four more steps to the process, and one obvious trade-off of the incredible transformation: odor.

"The Village smells like shit, but, at the same time, it is a beautiful smell of progress. It is the smell of the future," said I.O.C. president Jacques Rogge. "I am so impressed with how the United Kingdom has used this shit for good. I was very clear during the bid process that none of the pommel shit was to end up in the Thames River. I mean, none. They have stayed true to their word. I mean, they are the shit."

Some athletes haven't noticed the horrible smell in the Village, while others have asked for a transfer to a local hotel or hostel. "Honestly, I haven't noticed a thing," said Hope Solo, goalie for the U.S. women's national soccer team. "This is the first I'm hearing of it. I mean, there's a lot of athletes hear so there's going to be a lot of B.O., nothing unusual." The entire French fencing team was part of the group that relocated to a Holiday Inn across town. "Un-bear-ee-bull! Eeez not ack-sept-a-bull!" shouted the team captain.

The Games of the XXX Olympiad have been a success thus far, and trading clean rivers and emptier landfills for a sometimes horrific stench is a victory for the British. A gold medal, perhaps?

Above: Gymnasts can be thrown off rhythm if a pommel horse "takes care of business" during a routine. There are no "mulligans" if this happens.

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