Heathrow has started trials on a new unit that could turn unrecyclable passenger waste into alternative fuels, airport uniforms and furniture.
It is hoped the new technology will help solve the problem of waste from the terminals and aircraft cabins and help Heathrow to ultimately recycle 100% of its on-airport plastic waste (the current rate is around 50%).
The innovative design was created by development company Catal and lecturer Massimiliano Materazzi from University College, London (UCL), winners of this year’s Heathrow’s Innovation Prize. Beating other applications from small to medium sized businesses across the UK, they were found to have the best solutions which could solve some of the sustainability challenges facing airports and the aviation industry more widely. The funding from the prize will be used to set up the new research and development unit in the autumn, aiming to make the technology commercially viable by 2025.
It is hoped that the new plant, which will return the discarded plastic into its original oil state for recycling, will save up to 5,000 tonnes of waste from incineration each year and ultimately help Heathrow recycle all plastic waste from the airport (subject to regulation permits).
Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s Sustainability and Environment Director, said: “People are rightly concerned about plastic waste. Tens of thousands of tonnes of it are produced by UK air passengers every year which is something we must tackle. That’s why we’re helping to fund this R&D project which could make Heathrow the first UK airport to be able to recycle all plastic waste generated at the airport. Coupled with new regulations from Government on processing cabin waste, it would create a step-change in how airports across the UK manage plastic waste – giving passengers the confidence to travel knowing their plastics are sorted.’