Gatwick aims to boost its waste recycling rate from 49% to around 85% by 2020, claimed to be higher than any UK airport.

A new £3.8 million processing plant opening in November will dispose of food waste from long-haul flights on site.

The rubbish will be converted along with other organic waste into energy to power the new plant and heat the airport’s North Terminal.

Gatwick currently treats 2,200 tonnes of so-called Category 1 waste a year – around 20% of the total generated at the airport – and the new energy plant will process around 10 tonnes a day.

The plant also includes a waste sorting centre as Gatwick brings responsibility for sorting in-house to maximise the amount recycled.

The disposal of Category 1 waste is governed by strict rules that require specialist processing offsite to protect against the potential spread of disease and infectious material.

Category 1 forms the majority of waste from non-EU flights and is defined as food waste or anything mixed with it – such as packaging, cups and meal trays.

Gatwick, working with DHL, is set to become the first airport in the world able to dispose of Category 1 waste on site – an issue that costs the global aviation sector an estimated £500 million a year.

Airport chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “Handling waste is a challenge for all airports, but Gatwick’s new world-beating facility converts a waste problem into a green energy source.

“We expect others to follow Gatwick’s lead as we realise our ambition to become the UK’s most sustainable airport.

“Already we are one of only a handful of organisations in the country to achieve a triple series of Carbon Trust Standard awards, and more important environmental initiatives will follow soon.”

Paul Richardson, managing director, specialist services at DHL Supply Chain UK & Ireland, added: “We have worked closely with Gatwick over the past decade and are delighted to build our relationship further by implementing an innovative waste management and recycling system.

“This will not only improve efficiency but will help to accelerate the airport’s progress, enabling it to meet its 2020 sustainability targets three years early.

“We will work closely with Gatwick to integrate new technologies such as our biomass waste to energy system into the supply chain, enhancing energy production and ensuring a sustainable platform to support future expansion for the airport.”