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Soaring ahead: Gatwick Airport first in the world to turn waste into energy onsite

Posted by Richard Vale on 7 April 2017 at 12:03 pm

If you’re a fan of environmental waste management then fasten your seatbelt (and do not unbuckle until the landing light is switched off) because London Gatwick Airport and DHL supply chain have officially opened a new waste management plant, making it the first airport in the world to turn Category 1 airline waste into energy onsite.

Costing £3.8 million, the pilot scheme will turn organic airport waste such as food, cups, meal trays and packaging into energy which will be used to heat Gatwick’s waste management site and power its water recovery system. It is estimated to save the airport £1,000 in energy and waste management costs per day and therefore has a payback period of just over 10 years.

Category 1 waste makes up the bulk of waste from non-EU flights and is estimated to cost the global aviation industry a jumbo-sized £500 million each year. Gatwick currently produces around 2,200 tonnes of category 1 waste a year which comprises of around 20% of the total waste output. The new energy plant will be able process 10 tonnes per day so has the capacity to recycle more waste if demand increases in the future.

The plant is part of a larger project to boost the airport’s recycling rate from 49% to around 85% by 2020. Previously, waste was processed offsite, so the plant provides the additional benefits of reducing local traffic and carbon emissions.

Additional environmental benefits from the new plant include:

  • Processing category 1 waste and sorting mixed recyclable waste on site
  • 50% fewer lorry journeys to external waste plants reducing CO2 emissions
  • Generating energy from a biomass boiler
  • 1megawatt (MW)  of renewable energy
  • Water recovered from drying waste used to clean the bins
  • 2 million litres per annum reduction in water use
  • Ash recovered from biomass boiler could be used to make low carbon concrete
  • Compressing waste into large bales
  • 210 fewer industrial-size waste bin collections a day across the airport, reducing CO2 emissions

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick CEO commented: “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”

We can only hope that more airports follow this trailblazing idea and the concept really takes off. If they do, then the sky is the limit for low carbon long distance travel.

For more ‘eco-friendly’ airports click here.

Image credit: Airport, Michael Cheng on Flickr

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