Please go to gate 34 and put your waste in the correct bin on the way

Many of us pine for a holiday abroad and every year millions of Brits jet off from UK airports to foreign climes. With passports to hand, the last thing on anyone’s mind is whether the huge mountain of waste generated on-site is landfilled, incinerated or recycled.


While you are sitting, munching away on a snack and waiting for your gate to pop up on the screen, I doubt very much whether you’ll stop to think about whether the packaging around your food and drink can be recovered for reuse in a secondary product.

As consumers with our residents’ hats on, many of us do have a keen interest in recycling and would like to know where our waste materials end up. But with a flight to catch, do we even give it a second thought? Perhaps passengers shouldn’t be overly concerned; after all one could argue there are more important priorities at an airport to consider.

Then again, what if the entire system at airports was designed along a closed loop model, so that all that the passenger had to do was drop the discarded packaging into the correct waste stream and hey presto, the materials were captured for recovery at a nearby MRF.

What if these materials were then handed on to reprocessors and turned into a secondary product that was then procured by businesses operating at the airport and also supplied to the airlines flying in and out. Captured after consumer use, these materials could then be fed back again through a circular system.

That’s exactly what Heathrow Airport Limited, which runs the world’s third busiest airport, and Closed Loop Environmental Solutions have set out to do, starting with a large-scale audit of waste at the UK’s largest airport.

As CLES’ director Peter Goodwin points out, if what goes in the front end isn’t recyclable, how can airport landlords drive up recycling rates?

Influencing the composition of materials that go in at the front end is crucial in driving up capture rates. Not only will it reduce disposal costs for businesses, but it will also underpin efforts to improve sustainability at airports. If it can be shown to work at Heathrow, a closed loop model could be rolled out, not only at other national airports but also internationally.

Less material will be wasted, more will be recovered, and for the passenger waiting to catch their flight, they need be none the wiser.

Nick Warburton

Topics: Waste & resource management
Tags: | food | heathrow airport | packaging | Reuse
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