London Stansted Airport trials compostable security bags

London Stansted Airport has begun trialling security bags that purport to be compostable as an alternative to the traditional oil-based plastic kind.

50,000 of the new bags will be handed out during one of the Airport's busiest times of the year

50,000 of the new bags will be handed out during one of the Airport's busiest times of the year

The new bags, manufactured by Hertfordshire-based bag firm PMC Polythene, look and feel almost identical to the varieties made using oil-based plastics.

But they are made using plant-based materials and purport to break down in the presence of bacteria within a few months, compared to centuries for traditional plastics.

London Stanstead staff began giving out the new bags on Tuesday (17 December) and will distribute 50,000 of them over the course of the festive period. During the trial, customers and security staff will be asked to provide feedback on the new bags.

If feedback is positive, the new bags could be used to replace the 11 million plastic security bags currently handed out at the Airport on an annual basis.

While noting that some passengers had begun to question why bags are used at all in the wake of Blue Planet 2, the Airport maintains that it is legally required to make passengers carry liquids of no more than 100ml per item in hand luggage, and to place them into clear, re-sealable bags.

The Airport is, however, encouraging passengers to reuse their bags “as many times as possible”.

“As we reach the end of another busy year, tens of thousands of passengers have been passing through the terminal each day – each with a plastic bag for their liquids, many of which will simply end up in the bin,” Stanstead Airport’s environment manager Martin Churley said.

“Our first message to passengers is to think carefully about how often they use the non-recyclable plastic bags…However, we’re always on the lookout for new ways to cut down on waste, and trialling new compostable bags is just another example of how we are is leading the way in tackling some of the local environmental impacts which come with running this small town that we oversee here at London Stansted.”

Plastics action

The introduction of the new bags was put forward by staff within the Airport’s security team and forms part of a wider range of actions to reduce waste.

Elsewhere in its waste efforts, the Airport – which already operates on a zero-waste-to-landfill basis – has introduced water fountains to encourage staff and passengers to avoid single-use plastic bottles and is giving out thousands of free reusable water bottles and coffee cups over the festive period.

Stanstead also salvages items surrendered by passengers at security, including unopened toiletries and ambient food, for redistribution to local food banks. By the end of 2019, it will have donated 15 tonnes of these items.

With the so-called war on plastics showing no sign of slowing down, Stanstead is one of several businesses in the aviation sector to have implemented plastic phase-outs in recent months. Other notable examples include Dubai AirportVirgin AustraliaEtihad and Hi Fly.

However, its decision to opt for compostable plastics will doubtless attract some controversy. Plastics which are marked as compostable are often not recyclable in traditional infrastructure, or need to be exposed to certain conditions before they begin to break down.

Sarah George



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