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RWM preview: NRA retail: Birmingham Airport and Mitie Waste & Environmental Services

The judges said: “This is a very good example of partnership working to achieve results, including the evidence to back up the approach. More on waste prevention would have been valued.”


Within Birmingham Airport’s passenger terminal there are 18 concessions which produce food waste. This waste had previously been disposed of with the general waste stream and sent for incineration.

But the airport wanted to find alternative disposal routes, specifying this at the start of its contract with Mitie, when it was added it to its service-level agreement.

Working together, they developed a sustainable food waste disposal route which involved training staff to segregate food waste at source and to use new food waste bins put in the service yards. Collected food waste goes to a local anaerobic digestion (AD) plant for treatment, creating enough energy to supply over 2,500 homes and businesses with electricity.

Putting such a scheme in place involved numerous challenges, including:

Having multiple, independent concessions, each with their own company targets on recycling and waste disposal;
Lack of space within back-of-house areas for additional bins;
High volumes of customer turnover with emphasis on fast service;
Massive increases in short-term seasonal staff at certain times of the year, such as summer;
Each concession being responsible for taking its own waste to the service yards and disposing of it correctly;
No financial incentive for any of the concessions to dispose of the waste, so relying on their goodwill.

Mitie and Birmingham Airport researched the viable options for the site and involved the concessions from the start by asking them about how their food waste was produced; the volumes produced; the types of food waste produced; how they disposed of it; where and how it was stored before being moved to the service yard; how much change would be involved for them if the procedure for this waste stream was changed and what impact it would have on them; and what information and resources they would need for any training to be effective.

This was followed with a small-scale trial with three of the main concessions. Mitie provided posters and staff training, and kept abreast of any challenges experienced during the trial. It found a supplier with a local recycling site and on-board weighing equipment so that accurate volumes of food waste could be recorded and analysis carried out. The Mitie account manager presented to all the concession management teams at the monthly tenant and concession meeting, explaining what the trial was aiming to achieve, the reasons for it, when the roll out would start, the procedure and how they would be supported. The concessions were asked for their support to ensure the success of the project, and each one was provided with ‘at a glance’ posters advising what could be put into the food waste bins.

The trial was a success and the scheme was rolled out to each concession in April 2013.

Regular checks on the concessions continue, to ensure they are happy with how things are running and segregating their food waste. Additional resource was made available for two weeks in the summer, to carry out bag checks of the general waste. This meant that waste could be tracked back to the producer. Where food contamination was seen, records were kept and fed back to the individual concessions so that proactive training to reduce contamination could take place.

Birmingham Airport’s original target was to recycle 40 tonnes of food waste, which it has far exceeded. Since February, on average 10.5% of the general waste volume has been diverted as food waste to AD.

The service yards also have recycling bins for glass, cardboard, paper and plastic and, now that the food waste is no longer contaminating the general waste, a local MRF is extracting any remaining recyclables, increasing the volumes being recycled from 22% to 70%.

At the start of the food waste trial in February 2013 it was collecting 1.17 tonnes from both airport terminals. By December 2013, this figure had increased to 12.73 tonnes.

Recognising that one of the biggest challenges to maintaining success will be the influx of seasonal staff, an action plan has been developed to make sure all new staff are aware of the recycling process and receive appropriate training.

This includes: attending the tenants and concessions meeting at least once a year before peak season to reiterate the food waste recycling message; maintaining regular visits with the concessions; ensuring all employees have seen and understood the posters advising what can be put in the food waste bins and where to dispose of it in the service yards; and effective signage on all bins in the service yards and Mitie/Airport points of contact on posters.

There are also plans to work with each concession to develop its own dedicated waste procedure that can be included in  induction training and the correct protocol for waste disposal, linking this to the airport’s own waste management procedure.

By working in partnership, the airport and Mitie have achieved and surpassed all their contractual service-level agreements and are continuing to work together to find solutions for ensuring waste is used as a resource as much as possible.

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