Making rubbish work

DHL waste management

March 28, 2017

Ever stop to wonder what happens to all that waste the cabin crew bags up on every flight? Half-eaten sandwiches, discarded plastic forks, drinks bottles and coffee cups – there is a mountain of refuse to be disposed of and if it is off-loaded in London, it now has a much more interesting and useful journey ahead of it.

Gatwick Airport and DHL Supply Chain last week formally opened a new waste management plant and became the first airport in the world to turn airport waste into energy onsite.

The new £3.8million waste plant not only disposes of Category 1 waste safely onsite, but converts it and other organic waste into energy to heat Gatwick’s waste management site and power the site’s water recovery system. A similar, but smaller, plant is operated in collaboration with British Airways at Heathrow too.

Category 1 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. Through the plant, waste is turned into a dry-powdered organic material, used as fuel to heat the recycling site and dry the next day’s waste.

Gatwick currently treats 2,200 tonnes of Category 1 waste each year, around 20% of the total generated at the airport (10,500 tonnes). The new energy plant will process around 10 tonnes per day, whereas all Category 1 waste was previously processed offsite.

With the objective of boosting the airport’s recycling rate from 49% today to around 85% by 2020 – higher than any UK airport – the plant includes a waste sorting centre to maximise recycling onsite. Concentrating all activities in one location enables the team to transport waste four times more efficiently than before, reducing local traffic and carbon emissions.

The plant has also been designed with the future in mind and has the capacity to produce additional energy that could one day be used to power other areas of the airport.

“On our journey to become one of the greenest airports in the world, 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,” said Stewart Wingate, Gatwick CEO.”

Despite passenger numbers doubling at the airport, its environmental footprint has reduced. The Gatwick plant is set to save £1,000 in energy and waste management costs for every day it operates.

Pictured is Stewart Wingate with Martin Willmor, Senior Vice President, Specialist Services, UK, DHL Supply Chain, lending a hand at the new plant at the official opening.