Heathrow recycling pilot could set benchmark for aviation industry

A trial to encourage greater recycling of airport waste at London Heathrow could prove hugely influential by transforming the way the aviation sector treats airline and terminal waste around the world.

Closed Loop Environmental Solutions (CLES) has joined forces with Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL), which owns the world’s third busiest airport, to carry out what is believed to be the first in-depth waste audit at Heathrow Terminals 1, 3 and 4.

CLES, which set up a small recycling site near Terminal 4 in February, carried out a series of trials ending in mid-June using its Turnstile portable separation unit to analyse over 100 tonnes of waste materials.

“We needed to get granular data and that cannot be a historic approach. It needs to be a thorough analysis,” explained CLES’ director Peter Goodwin.

“We took six business units from Terminal 1, 3 and 4, and we split them for waste generated by the terminals landside and airside, which gave us six seven-day studies. We analysed all of the material that wasn’t segregated at source in an individual waste stream.”

The waste analysis marks an important step forward for HAL, which currently is responsible for collecting a quarter (26,000 tonnes) of the waste generated at London Heathrow each year.

One of the trial’s main aims is to see how increasing recycling levels at the airport can help HAL to meet its 70% recycling target and zero untreated waste to landfill by 2020.

“We’ve got a recycling rate of 29% and the reason for that seemingly low rate is partly due to the fact that all of the airside waste, aircraft cabin waste, currently has to be incinerated according to the EU’s Animal-by Product Regulations,” said HAL’s waste & environment manager Mark Robertson.

“It’s significant to us because 33% of our waste stream effectively is off-bounds. We can’t do anything about it.”

Robertson said that early results from the waste analysis revealed that HAL could in theory recycle over 50% of the materials collected during the trial.

“There’s plenty of plastic, paper, cans and card,” he said. “What we now need to do is go away, do a detailed analysis and work out how we can recover that material in such a condition that we can maximise the income we receive for when we take it to the markets.”

Robertson told edie that HAL and CLES would be working on a second piece of work with the International Air Transport Association, the governing body that regulates international air transport, to see how they could overcome regulatory restrictions, which would allow HAL to recycle cabin waste from aircraft landing at the airport.

“If we find a system off getting recycling off aircraft in a compliant way with the strictest regulations in the world, then it’s got to be a winner for everybody else,” he said.

A more in-depth look at how Heathrow is pushing airport waste up the hierarchy can be viewed here

Nick Warburton

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