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Waste away: Auckland Airport expands compost programme

  • 2024-02-14
  • 13.5 tonnes of domestic terminal food court organic waste diverted from landfill in three months 
  • A good sort: New $5 million waste facility opens airside to improve waste management and increase recycling

When you grab coffee and a snack at Auckland Airport, you can do so knowing there are positive plans in place to tackle the challenge of waste. Coffee grinds, food scraps and even compostable cups will be put to good use, with the airport expanding its landside* food waste composting scheme at the domestic terminal to now include some parts of the landside food and beverage areas of the international terminal.

The food waste is collected and sent to Tuakau-based Envirofert, where it is repurposed as 100 per cent organic compost used by fruit and vegetable growers in Pukekohe, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty as well as Kiwifruit orchards on the East Cape. 


Waste away, Auckland Airport, Compost programme

“Food organics and single-use packaging are some of the biggest contributors of our waste to landfill from within our terminals, so composting is an important addition to our waste diversion programme and wider efforts to reduce waste right across the airport,” said Auckland Airport Chief Sustainability & Masterplanning Officer Mary-Liz Tuck.


Food waste collection started in the domestic terminal late last year and has grown to include food waste from six food and beverage operator kitchens and the public eating areas inside and outside the food court. The collection has seen 13.5 tonnes of organic waste diverted from landfill over the last three months.


Now, with the recent addition of food waste collection from kitchens and back-of-house areas supporting the eight landside food and beverage businesses in the international terminal, the airport is expected to at least double its current volume of food waste away from landfill.  Envirofert’s Operations Manager Paul Yearbury said the airport’s food waste makes a big contribution to production of its high-quality compost.


Waste away, Auckland Airport, Compost programme

“Organic waste from food waste and green waste is vital to create a fully stabilised compost with high-nutrient and microbiological value, which is an essential component for improving soil performance in horticulture and agriculture,” Mr Yearbury said.

“The food waste we receive from the airport is significant to our compost production, which is used by a wide range of orchards and vegetable growers by helping to promote crop health and yield and the fertility of their land.”

The airport’s composting programme is expected to be extended to the food court and public dining areas at the international terminal next year.  Disposable cups supplied within the airport terminals are also required to be commercially compostable.

Ms Tuck said Auckland Airport has made a commitment to reduce waste sent to landfill by 20 per cent from 2019 levels, by 2030 for aeronautical operations. 
“As well as separating food waste, we are developing new initiatives that will pave the way for continued waste reduction, which is also particularly important in terms of protecting New Zealand’s biosecurity,” she said.

“We’ve made a strong start to this journey, and we are really encouraged by the positive engagement from our retailers and partners as we take steps as an airport community to keep adapting to better, long-term sustainable business practices,” she said. 

Auckland Airport’s Head of Retail, Lucy Thomas said recycling systems across the airport have recently been improved, with new bin signage making it clear and easy for people to do the right thing with their rubbish and reduce contamination of recyclable and compostable material.  

“We are also working hard to avoid waste creation in the first place. Part of this is encouraging the use of dine-in and washable cups, crockery and cutlery, where possible, rather than serving food and drinks in single-use, takeaway packaging,” Ms Thomas said.   “We’re not there yet, but single-use plastic or plastic-lined packaging is certainly not part of our future.” 


Duty-free retailers have phased in alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags and are progressing even more sustainable options including the use of reusable, woven shopping bags in place of thick, reusable plastic bags. Duty-free liquor stores are also trialing paper-based bottle protectors rather than plastic, with duty-free liquor purchases.


Bathroom upgrades underway at the domestic terminal will introduce jet air hand dryers to replace what’s estimated to be 40 million paper hand towels used in the domestic terminal bathrooms each year, with the potential to remove 40 tonnes of waste from the airport’s landfill waste stream. 


Waste away, Auckland Airport, Compost programme


A good sort – transitional waste facility upgraded
As Auckland Airport is underway with the most significant upgrade in its history, it’s progressing on sustainability initiatives that will have a meaningful impact across the aviation precinct.  This includes a new, $5 million transitional waste facility that processes waste from international flights, airline lounges, as well as all waste from the domestic terminal (including waste from retailers, terminal rubbish bins, restrooms and food waste) and airside waste from the international terminal. 

The facility is double the size of its predecessor and being a centralised facility, supports better collaboration between airlines, border agencies and waste services providers to improve the pathway of waste and increase recycling volumes. In particular, huge improvements have been made in the treatment of what amounts to close to 100 tonnes of airside waste (largely from airlines) each month, which had previously all been sent to landfill.

But the new, purpose-built facility sees the waste hand-sorted to divert low-risk, clean recyclables from biosecurity treatment and eventual disposal.  So far, this has resulted in about 30 wheelie bins (240L) of recycling being diverted away from landfill each month. 
“This is a really exciting step, and it’s just the start of more improvements as we identify other areas where we can expand material recovery,” Ms Tuck said. 


What you can do to reduce waste while travelling through Auckland Airport

  • Bring your reusable coffee cup and water bottle. Auckland Airport has water refill stations throughout the domestic and international terminals. 
  • Put your rubbish in the correctly marked bin. If in doubt, place it in the general waste bin to reduce the risk of contamination of recyclable materials. 
  • Bring a reusable shopping bag if you plan to shop in the terminal.
  • Know what you can take through security to avoid having to throw anything away.
New Zealand
Auckland International Airport
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