Jacqui Hellyer is manager of environmental communications for the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG).

Monday, 3 Apr 2000

SYDNEY, Australia

Well I’ve started the week on a high note, after having spent a wonderful weekend camping at Jervis Bay, a national park two hours south of Sydney. The absolutely pristine white sands, forest that comes down to the beach, kangaroos by day, possums by night, and trees full of galahs, rosellas, and other parrots are enough to lift the spirits of any jaded city dweller. Now that the season is cooling down it’s perfect camping weather, and my four-year-old son is at an age where he really enjoys it and we can even do some decent length bushwalks (we’re just about over that awkward stage where he’s too big to carry, but too little to walk far).

So on that high note, I started the day with one of my favourite tasks — briefing an international journalist on the “Green Games.” Makiko is a Japanese journalist from an environmental magazine, Eco21, doing a 10-page spread on the environmental aspects of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. It’s always a pleasure to brief these visiting journalists as they are so receptive and enthusiastic (although perhaps their good mood is due more to their having a lovely time visiting Sydney, which, it must be said, is a wonderful place to visit!). I wish the domestic media were as positive, but unfortunately the Australian media is not fond of good news stories and only seems to be interested in problems and scandals. It’s a shame, because there are some fabulous stories associated with these Games, particularly in the environmental area.

It was, in fact, due to these Games that I was lured back into working for the environment. Let me digress for a moment and indulge in a little self-reflection. For a number of years I thought I would never work in the environmental area again. After graduating from university with science and environmental management qualifications under my belt, I joined the federal Environment Department. After six years of endless effort working on heavy topics such as climate change and marine pollution — growing problems being insufficiently addressed — I decided I’d had enough. I was becoming pessimistic and negative. So I figured I needed a total change and went to live in Japan for four years, working on cross-cultural communication. It was only when I returned to Australia and was offered this job that I thought I’d give it a go.

Just me and my worms.

The organizing committee had already made a strong commitment to the environment and I felt that the Games could provide an excellent means to push forward environmental issues. Two and a half years later, I’d have to say that I think we can feel pretty proud of what has been achieved. Even Greenpeace has given us a score of 7 out or 10 — which isn’t bad from an organisation better known for its criticism than its support! (I don’t want to brag and claim perfection here, far from it, but we are setting down a pretty good benchmark for future Olympic organising committees to improve upon.)

But back to my day. After talking to the journalist, I took her and a photographer down to see our commercial-scale worm farm (400,000 worms eat waste from the cafeteria kitchen), for yet more photos of me holding a handful of worms (it’s a great photo opportunity).

400,000 worms, training for the Sydney Olympics.

Then I was off to a meeting about our integrated waste branding system. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but basically it means that we are decorating all the food and drink packaging so that it’s colour-coordinated with the bins — and I must say it does look rather stylish (we have a good design team here — they’re closet greenies!). At Games-time there will be two types of bins in public places: one for recyclable material (cans, bottles, and plastic cups and containers) and one for compostable material (food scraps, cardboard plates, and biodegradable cutlery). All this material will be recycled and composted, and hopefully there will be very little which needs to be disposed of in landfill. It means developing new products, such as recyclable plastic wine glasses and biodegradable bin liners, to fit the system, and there will inevitably be some material which contaminates the system, but if it’s a low enough amount it won’t be a problem.

This afternoon was spent writing a section for a book on environmental technologies at the Games. I’d tell you more, but it looks like I’ve run out of space. And I haven’t even started to tell you about the traumas I’m having trying to get an environmental experience centre funded for Games-time. That will all have to wait until tomorrow. Till then, farewell.