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Gatwick Airport unveils facility to treat problem plane waste

Gatwick Airport has formally opened a plant to burn food and packaging waste from flights and produce power for the airport – a facility it says is a world first.

The £3.8 million plant, located in the airport’s north terminal, will treat waste defined as Category 1, which forms the majority of waste from non-EU flights and is defined as food waste or anything mixed with it, such as packaging, cups and meal trays from international transport vehicles.

Gatwick Airport unveils facility to treat problem plane waste
Martin Willmor, Senior Vice President of UK Specialist Services, DHL Supply Chain and Charles Kirwan Taylor, Corporate Affairs & Sustainability, Gatwick Airport
Gatwick, and logistics company DHL Supply Chain, which manages inbound deliveries at the airport at its logistics and consolidation facility, estimates that the plant, which also houses a materials recycling facility (MRF), will save £1,000 in energy and waste management costs for every day that it operates.

International catering waste (ICW) has to comply with rules surrounding international animal product food waste, which is controlled as it could present a risk to animal health if it enters the animal food chain. This means that Category 1 waste can only be incinerated or rendered. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline industry currently generates approximately 4.5 million tonnes of cabin waste per annum at a cost of around $500 million (£400 million), and that that figure is set to double in the next 15 years. 

Gatwick currently treats 2,200 tonnes of Category 1 waste each year, representing around 20 per cent of the total waste generated annually at the airport (10,500 tonnes).

Whilst previously all of this waste was processed offsite, the new plant will enable its conversion into energy to heat Gatwick’s waste management site and power its water recovery system. The biomass combustion system will turn the ICW into a dry-powdered organic material that can be burnt to heat the site and dry other waste.

Turning ‘difficult’ waste problem into a solution

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick CEO said: “On our journey to become the UK’s most sustainable airport, our new world-beating waste plant turns a difficult waste problem into a sustainable energy source. We’re confident it sets the benchmark for others to follow in waste management.”

Martin Willmor, Senior Vice President of UK Specialist Services at DHL Supply Chain, added: “After a decade of working closely with Gatwick, we’re excited to still be finding innovative ways to improve operations across the airport. Disposing of Category 1 waste can be very costly and time-consuming, but our new waste management and recycling system is a huge step forward.

“Gatwick is leading the way in converting waste onsite into an energy source and we’re already investigating a number of further initiatives to support sustainable energy production and the future expansion of the airport.”

Gatwick Airport unveils facility to treat problem plane waste

Potential for expansion

Gatwick is the UK’s second largest airport, serving around 43 million passengers a year. The plant has been designed with the possibility of expanding to produce additional energy that could eventually be used to power other areas of the airport.

The plant also includes a MRF for other waste created at the airport. Around 8,000 tonnes of commingled waste can be sorted by the MRF, with any remaining organic material left after separating dry recyclables being added to the waste heading to the biomass system.

Gatwick currently recycles 49 per cent of its waste, and has set an objective of hitting an 85 per cent rate by 2020. Concentrating all activities in one location, it says, enables the team to transport waste four times more efficiently than before, reducing local traffic and carbon emissions.

Wingate added: “Our ambitious plans to develop in the most environmentally responsible way possible are driven by a set of rigorous targets. I’m delighted to say our strategy is working and, despite passenger numbers doubling, our environmental footprint is better today than it was in the early 1990s.”

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