London’s Gatwick Airport and DHL Supply Chain have opened a waste-to-energy plant, which they say makes Gatwick the first airport in the world to turn airport waste, such as food and packaging, into energy onsite.
The plant will save £1,000 ($1,243) in energy and waste management costs for every day it operates, the companies say.
The £3.8 million ($4.73 million) waste plant disposes of category 1 waste onsite, converting it and other organic waste into energy to heat Gatwick’s waste management site and power the site’s water recovery system. Category 1 comprises 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.
International rules require category 1 waste to be either incinerated or rendered, which means airports usually have to transport it offsite, incurring hauling fees and vehicle emissions.
Gatwick currently treats 2,200 metric tons of category 1 waste each year, around 20 percent of the total generated at the airport (10,500 metric tons). The new energy plant will process around 10 metric tons per day; previously all category 1 waste was processed offsite.
The global airline industry generates about 4.5 million metric tons of cabin waste per year, which costs the airlines about $500 million, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The industry group expects that number to double in the next 15 years. So similar onsite WTE facilities would not only reduce the airline industry’s environmental footprint, they would save airlines money as well.
Gatwick has also set a target of increasing its recycling rate from 49 percent today to around 85 percent by 2020. To this end, the plant includes a waste-sorting center to maximize 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 also has the capacity to produce additional energy that could one day be used to power other areas of the airport.