Bins and Circuses

A century and a half before the first waste paper collection from Melbourne households inspired the idea of systematic waste recycling, thoroughbred horseracing began shaping the very fabric of Australian society. A relic of English colonialism, the first races were held in Sydney as early as 1790, not long after the colony was settled.

Today, horseracing is the third most patronised sport in Australia after AFL and rugby league, and the only event able to ‘stop’ the nation for a single 3200m race – the Emirates Melbourne Cup held at Flemington Racecourse.

Throughout the Melbourne Cup Carnival – consisting of the world-famous Emirates Melbourne Cup as well as AAMI Victoria Derby Day, Crown Oaks Day and Emirates Stakes Day – some 318,900 local and international visitors flocked to Flemington in 2016, making it the world’s most vibrant horseracing venue and placing complex challenges on the local waste management team.

Led by James Reid, Senior Manager Event Operations, the team had to handle some 122 tonnes of waste on Cup Day alone. Over the four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival, an additional 350 tonnes had to be managed – and that’s just the venue’s core offering.

With Flemington Racecourse’s evolution into an all-year event location over the past decade or so, handling all types of waste has become a full-time job for Reid, who has partnered with Melbourne consultancy, Incognitus, to ensure the world-famous venue is managed to an equally world-class standard.

Reid’s self-imposed key performance indicator is to reduce diversion from land ll to the smallest possible amount, he explains, “a seemingly simple measure that’s incredibly complex to control.”

During the 2016 Melbourne Cup Carnival, Flemington Racecourse achieved a staggering 98.05 per cent diversion rate – a long way from the 25.9 per cent in 2008, when Reid and his team first embarked on the sustainability journey.

“I don’t see myself as an environmentalist,” he says, with the stoic calm of someone who has had to endure many a frantic race day at Flemington. “Diverting waste from land ll is a cost-saving tool rst and foremost. Sustainability is a by-product, if you will.”

Driven by a ‘natural urge’ to keep improving, Reid says his competitiveness has helped achieve results quickly – the first year saw the largest improvement to date – but that doesn’t mean Flemington’s sustainability program will come to an end any time soon.

“When you start on a journey like this, success may come quickly, but you also plateau out relatively soon. That’s where it’s getting interesting for someone like me, who is naturally wired to continuously improve,” he explains – adding that the idea of promoting sustainability as a way of life has since become more important for him personally and the Flemington operation at large.

“It’s fair to say my mindset has changed from viewing recycling as a cost-saving measure alone to now regarding it as a holistic societal challenge that iconic venues like Flemington Racecourse have to contribute to,” says Reid, who became a father in January.

“It still doesn’t mean I’m a green activist; but as a team, we’ve certainly realised just how important it is for us to have a strong position on sustainability and take our responsibility not just in the racing community, but in society, seriously. At the end of the day, a world-leading venue has to lead the way on every level – including waste management.”

To read more, see page 14 of Issue 10.