In partnership with logistics company DHL, Gatwick will become the first airport globally to dispose of Category 1 waste – which is defined as food waste or any packaging mixed in with it – onsite and treat around 10 tonnes daily at a new £3.8m processing plant.

Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “Handling waste is a challenge for all airports, but Gatwick’s new World-beating facility converts a waste problem into a green energy source.

“We expect others to follow Gatwick’s lead as we realise our ambition to become the UK’s most sustainable airport. Already we are one of only a handful of organisations in the country to achieve a triple series of Carbon Trust Standard awards, and more important environmental initiatives will follow soon.”

With Category 1 waste costing the global aviation sector around £500m annually, Gatwick believes that its onsite processing plant will generate 1MW of renewable energy while also reducing lorry journeys to external waste plants – which was previously required due to strict governing rules – by 50%.

The energy generated will be used to power the new processing plant and provide heat for the North Terminal. Gatwick has also claimed that the plant will reduce water use by two million litres annually, by cleaning bins with the water recovered from the drying waste at the plant. Gatwick is also exploring the possibility of using ash recovered from the biomass boiler to create low-carbon concrete.

As well as conducting 210 fewer waste bin collection journeys daily, the plant will also include a waste sourcing centre that will boost recycling rates at the airport from 49% to 85% by 2020. Gatwick claims this recycling rate would rank as the highest amongst UK airports.

With Gatwick currently treating 2,200 tonnes of Category 1 waste annually – around 20% of the total generated at the airport – the airport’s inbound delivery supplier DHL believes that the new plant will help Gatwick hit its 2020 sustainability targets three years early.

DHL Supply Chain’s managing director Paul Richardson said: “We have worked closely with Gatwick Airport over the past decade and are delighted to build our relationship further by implementing an innovative waste management and recycling system. This will not only improve efficiency but will help to accelerate the airport’s progress, enabling it to meet its 2020 sustainability targets three years early.

“We will work closely with Gatwick Airport to integrate new technologies such as our Biomass Waste to Energy System into the supply chain, enhancing energy production and ensuring a sustainable platform to support future expansion for the airport.”

Runway battle

Gatwick’s commitment to tackling waste could sway the tide in the ongoing debate over the UK’s controversial plans to install an extra runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow. Gatwick has previously claimed that it is the “only” airport that can deliver the economic benefits of expansion without “dramatic and unacceptable” impacts on air quality.

However, Heathrow recently became the first UK airport to propose a series of environmental targets, including energy reduction, recycling and a ‘mystery shopper’ programme, for restaurants and outlets in the airport.

The Independent Transport Commission (ITC) has thrown its weight behind Heathrow for the third runway, claiming that technological advancements would mitigate the environmental impacts such as air pollution.

Matt Mace

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