SALT LAKE CITY — The way Tom Price sees it, Olympic organizers missed a golden opportunity to make the Winter Games the most environmentally friendly international event ever.
Instead of aiming high — developing a mass transit system, say, or installing solar power at competition sites — the Salt Lake Organizing Committee settled for middling goals, such as recycling and tree planting, the activists contend.
The conservation group Save Our Canyons, in a report issued this week, said the committee dropped the ball. “Not just dropped it, but kicked it out the window, then burned and buried it,” said Tom Price, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s Olympics coordinator.
Diane Conrad Gleason, environmental spokeswoman for the organizing committee, dismissed the criticism, citing an independent review of the committee’s environmental achievements by CH2MHILL, a business consulting firm. That review said the Olympic committee was successful in meeting 12 specific environmental goals it set for itself.
“We met our commitments and we raised the bar on the environment compared to other games,” she said.
Gleason cited three main pillars of the 2002 environmental plan — zero additional emissions, zero waste and an urban forestry program that will plant 18 million trees.
The committee pledged to make the air cleaner with an emission program reliant on businesses donating air pollution credits. The credits essentially give a business the right to create a certain amount of pollution.
The committee bought some credits from Utah companies; businesses got a tax break and the credits went out of circulation, lessening pollution. Gleason said 180,000 tons of pollution will not be generated in Utah because of the program.
Another initiative involves recycling 85 percent of Olympic trash that not only recycles glass, plastic and paper but composts food products. After the games, Salt Lake County will have its first functioning food-waste composting site.
The committee also will use 8,600 bins for trash and recycling, many of which will be donated to local agencies after the games.
“SLOC has done everything they can do to meet the recycling goals. ... We are quite pleased,” said Amber Sundin-DeBirk, director of the Recycling Coalition of Utah.
Olympic sponsors also were encouraged to use environmentally friendly products, she said. For instance, instead of a wax-coated cup, Coca-Cola developed a paper cup coated in plant starch that is completely biodegradable.
Ivan Weber, chairman of the Utah Sierra Club, said he’s happy to give the committee full credit for promoting a badly needed recycling program in Utah. “But the question, is how high were those expectations?” he asked.
Price said the Olympic committee could have done much more. He said it had years to coordinate meaningful environmental plans and yet some crucial issues, such as a transportation plan that minimized pollution, were not accomplished.
The committee’s main plan for moving 70,000 spectators a day relies on driving and parking near venues before taking a short shuttle bus ride. Environmentalists said more effort should have been put into a massive bus effort.
About 900 buses are already on loan from transit agencies around the country.
Environmentalists said the committee did not take the lead on larger issues.
“The Olympics was a chance and we blew it,” Weber said. “These things they’ve done should be a baseline way of behaving. They are good things, but they are so much less than we could have seen.”