Waste management: Talking rubbish!
Waste management practices are critical to the sustainability journey of airports, writes Frost & Sullivan’s aerospace and defence research analyst, Abhilash Abraham.
The aviation sector’s impact on the environment is under constant scrutiny, partially due to the high volumes of waste it generates and its perceived inability to dispose of or recycle it.
Aviation stakeholders, such as airports, are largely focusing their sustainability investments on long-term goals such as emission-free and zero-waste businesses.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic reduced the passenger traffic at airports during 2020-2021, which led to a corresponding drop in waste generated at airports. But this period saw a significant increase in the biological and surgical waste, largely in the form of PPE kits.
Regulators and governments are increasingly taking note of the large amounts of waste being generated, and they are likely to implement stringent guidelines for waste management across industries.
Investing in efficient waste management will further improve airports’ sustainability efforts. Zero waste is a long-term aspirational goal for airports to significantly reduce their environmental impact.
Reducing waste generation, enhancing recycling capacities, reducing waste disposal quantities, and efficient waste sorting, collection and distribution processes are the critical tenets of the zero-waste strategy.
Improving the efficiency of existing resources is key to the implementation of zero-waste initiatives. The growing passenger traffic and expanding airport infrastructure will lead to an increased amount of waste.
Airports must strategically plan and efficiently allocate resources to reduce waste generation in such an operating environment. A successful zero-waste strategy will ensure that no waste is completely disposed.
Minimal waste should be diverted to landfills or incineration centres. The goal is to recycle the entirety of the waste, which can serve other purposes.
Waste disposal methods
As per the World Bank’s pre-pandemic data, nearly 33% of global waste is dumped in open spaces. Landfills represent more than 35% of waste disposal; wastes disposed of in sanitary and controlled landfills contribute to around 10%.
Nearly 13% of global waste is recycled, and approxiomately 11% is incinerated. Recycling, sanitary and controlled landfills and incineration are the key waste disposal and treatment methods followed by major airports in partnership with local governments, municipal operators, and other aviation stakeholders such as retail partners, airlines and airport ground handling companies.
Major airports with significant financial capabilities are investing in niche machines and solutions that will enable them to efficiently convert waste to energy.
These will gradually allow airports to enhance their waste conversion rates (which indicates the capability of the airport to convert collected waste to energy) and improve their recycling processes.
Waste diversion rates are a key indicator of the firm’s waste management capabilities. This denotes the share of waste that is recycled for other purposes from the total waste that is disposed of via landfills or other methods.
Below are five global examples of some of the pioneering waste management practices carried out by major gateways in Qatar, the UAE, Canada, UK and India.
Airport: Hamad International Airport (DOH)
Region: Middle East
Passenger traffic in 2019: 38.8 million
Passenger traffic in 2021: 17.7 million
• The airport recycles landscaping wastes to generate organic compost, which can produce more than 3,000 tons per annum, which will be used for in-house green initiatives and sold to outside parties.
• It partners with the Minister of Municipality to enhance wastewater treatment and recycling processes.
• The airport installed a wastewater treatment plant in 2014 to process the entirety of the produced wastewater.
Airport: Dubai International Airport (DXB)
Region: Middle East
Passenger traffic in 2019: 86.4 million
Passenger traffic in 2021: 29.1 million
• The airport has set goals to reduce more than 50% of its waste directed to landfills by the middle of 2023.
• It has invested in a food waste treatment facility to process more than 2,000 tons of food waste to achieve the stated diversion goal.
• The airport has also set up an initiative to process the entirety of cooking oil from retail outlets and process it to generate biodiesel fuel.
Airport: Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
Region: North America
Passenger traffic in 2019: 26.4 million
Passenger traffic in 2021: 7.1 million
• The airport set a deadline to divert nearly half of the waste generated from its terminals by 2020. It was able to accelerate and achieve this goal in 2016.
• YVR is now focusing on transitioning to a zero-waste airport and has increased the goal of the share of waste that is to be diverted from landfills.
• It has invested in artificial intelligence to assist in accurate waste sorting.
Airport: Gatwick Airport (LGW)
Passenger traffic in 2019: 46.6 million
Passenger traffic in 2021: 6.3 million
• In 2018, it was the first airport to receive Zero Waste to Landfill certification from the Carbon Trust for actively diverting its non-hazardous waste from landfill.
• In 2019, the airport recycled more than 40% of its waste.
• The airport has invested more than $3 million in developing a waste-to-energy conversion facility. This facility enables the airport to process and reduce waste in-house.
Airport: Bengaluru Kempegowda International Airport (BLR)
Passenger traffic in 2019: 33.7 million
Passenger traffic in 2021: 16.1 million
• In 2018, the airport started investing in developing a waste management system in-house. The project was developed in partnership with the environmental technology firm Ekolog.
• The system has the capacity to process approximately 20 tons of waste daily, with the potential to expand the capacity to up to 60 tons of daily waste.
• The facility will convert the collected organic waste to bioenergy, which can power in-house processes, and deliver more than a million kilograms of compost yearly.
Airports will need to facilitate the growing passenger traffic within fixed capacity constraints, which will impact the passenger experience. This is a priority for airports and airlines, and efficient passenger processing and waste management will be critical in terms of
achieving an optimum passenger experience.
The anticipated rise in passenger traffic will lead to increased investments in waste management, and airports will invest in in-house capabilities to achieve zero-waste status.
Currently, investments in waste management are not a priority, and only the financially capable airports that have in-house capabilities are investing in these solutions.
Waste management is a small segment of the aviation ecosystem, and operational expenditure in waste management will account for a minor share of an airport’s overall operating costs. This expense is highly correlated to the operational passenger traffic at the airport.
Airports will require high capital investment for investing in machinery, solutions, and processes for waste recycling and waste-to-energy conversion. All the leading airports will be required to enhance their collaboration and partner with other stakeholders to support their waste management efforts.