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Sky’s the limit for recycling rate


According to its website, the airline Flybe carries eight million passengers a year between 81 airports in the UK and Europe. That’s almost the entire population of London. Flybe describes itself as the largest independent airline in Europe. Earlier this year it decided to overhaul the recycling programme for its headquarters at Exeter airport.

“We wanted a more sustainable and efficient way to handle the waste that could be recycled or reused,” says Richard Young, group procurement and fleet director. “We started with a better solution for recycling what we could from the non-hazardous waste produced during aircraft maintenance activity.”

He explains that the company already separated out metals, cardboard and wood but saw that it had potential to be doing “much more”. Yet Flybe did not have the facilities or resources to separate other multiple waste streams for recycling.

This is where Devon Contract Waste (DCW) came on board. DCW has experience in producing bespoke waste and recycling plans for a range of businesses from construction firms to tourist attractions. It also collects a wide selection of materials including: dry mixed recycling (DMR), general waste, confidential, waste electrical and electronic equipment, clinical, hazardous, green, card and paper, plastic, glass and food.

In order to create a tailored waste and recycling plan, DCW carried out a detailed audit of Flybe’s operation. It reviewed how much waste it produced and how it was being handled onsite – such as whether baling or manual handling was used – and whether any improvements could be made. Compliance with current legislation was also reviewed, especially with regards to hazardous waste.

Simon Almond, DCW managing director, says: “When it comes to larger organisations, no two are the same in terms of the waste they produce and their specific needs.”

Before the contract with DCW, most of Flybe’s waste materials, including wood and food, was put in wheeled bins across the site or into an on-site compactor. But now it is all separated on-site.

Cardboard is sorted and collected separately by DCW, while mixed general waste is placed in the compactor and processed after collection to remove recyclable materials. Food waste is also collected separately, which has helped to minimise the contamination of general waste. Collections for food waste and DMR are weekly and the compactor full of mixed general waste is collected every few weeks.

The scheme was quickly expanded to include not just aircraft maintenance waste but also materals from offices and the training academy. DCW worked with Flybe to create posters and bin stickers that clearly explain the new system for employees.

DCW has also set up an online portal so that Flybe can see what and how much waste each site or area is producing.

Almond says: “Every organisation is busy running their business and, while companies want to recycle as much as they can, it can be complicated and expensive to add lots of internal bins to get staff to do it. Our system removes all the confusion, saves space on-site and reduces CO2 by collecting all the dry waste together.”

Working with an airline under today’s heightened security measures did pose some challenges.

“The main consideration when dealing with an airline is airside restrictions and making sure procedures are checked, checked and checked again before we undertake any collections,” says Almond. “Every care is required when working around valuable aircraft. At Flybe, safety precautions and restrictions are in place to prevent any close encounters between collection vehicles and planes.”

Since April, Flybe’s recycling rate at the Exeter site stood at 64% with the remaining 36% non-recyclable waste going to one of three energy-from-waste sites that DCW works with. No material is sent to landfill and, overall, 140 tonnes a year of waste will be diverted.

In terms of carbon, DCW says it collects waste in a single vehicle to reduce the number of journeys made and C02 emitted.

Almond could not indicate how much the new contract has or will save Flybe. But Young says: “We now know exactly what weight of waste we are producing and this is helping us to drive our waste reduction initiatives.

“And with the forward planning that the new system affords, we can predict when we are going to produce more waste and so manage its disposal more effectively. Our contract with DCW has taken our recycling commitment to a whole new level and we aim to increase the rate incrementally during the next few years.”

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