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Atlanta plans sustainability facility at airport to handle up 200,000 tons a year of trash, yard trimmings

Atlanta airport, at night Two men arrested on separate occasions at Atlanta's airport had flown in for the purpose of having sex with a minor girl they had met on the Internet. File/Credit: creativecommons.org

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s airport plans to hire a company to build and operate a recycling facility that ultimately is to handle 200,000 tons a year of airport waste and yard clippings collected around town, refuse that otherwise would end up in a landfill, according to a bid released Monday.

Atlanta Airport International Terminal Only Vendor in Atrium

Atlanta’s airport intends to reduce the amount of waste from restaurants that’s hauled to landfills. File/Credit: Donita Pendered

The project is part of the airport’s move toward a zero waste program.

The Green Acres ATL Energy Park is to be built on at least 30 acres on the airport’s grounds that the vendor is to lease, located off Forest Parkway, according to the bid. The site could be as large as 39 acres.

Terms of the bid call for up to half the entry-level employees to be hired through the city’s worker training program, Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been trying to get the troubled agency back on its feet so it can help city residents get good jobs.

Atlanta is willing to allow the winner of the airport trash contract to accept waste collected from other sources. This caveat that could be important as the region’s landfills approach capacity and disposal fees rise, as trash has to be hauled farther from metro Atlanta.

The notion is for the airport facility to recycle or repurpose at least 90 percent of the municipal solid waste that’s generated at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. That’s a big uptick compared to current recycling figures.

In 2012, about 5 percent of waste collected from the airport’s passenger terminals was recycled, according to the bid. Compare that to the 80 percent of the waste stream generated that year that did consist of materials that could have been recycled or composted, according to a waste characterization study conducted by AECOM, an international consultancy.

Atlanta airport, at night

Atlanta’s airport is promoting sustainability as part of its overall expansion efforts. File/Credit: creativecommons.org

Here’s the breakdown of the airport’s waste that could be recycled or composted:

  • Organic – 32 percent, including 29 percent food waste and 3 percent packing materials;
  • Plastic – 21.1 percent;
  • Glass – 2.5 percent;
  • Metal – 2.5 percent.

In addition, almost two-thirds of the waste generated at the airport is compostable. Of this amount, 29 percent is food waste and 3 percent is packaging.

Finally, the facility is to process more than 19,000 tons a year of yard trimmings collected by the city’s Department of Public Works, according to the bid.

One important aspect of airport trash is that international trash is handled differently from domestic trash.

Here’s the breakout from the bid:

Domestic Waste

  • “The solid waste collected in the terminal and concourses by [airport employees] is placed into one cubic-yard carts known as ‘gooses’. The gooses contain the solid waste that is collected from the boarding area gates, restaurants, merchandise vendors, small food vendors, gate ticket counters and restrooms. When the goose is full, it is taken to the service elevator and transported to the apron level where the solid waste is deposited into a 34-cubic-yard compactor; on occasion the solid waste may be placed into an eight cubic-yard dumpster.”

International Waste

  • “In accordance with Title 7 Code of Federal Regulations 330.400 -330.403 and Title 9 Code of Federal Regulations 94.5, solid waste (or garbage) arriving from any place outside the United States or Canada, is subject to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations for handling, once in the United States.
  • “This solid waste (or garbage) is defined as any waste derived in whole or in part from fruits, vegetables, meats, or other plant or animal material, and other refuse that has been associated with any such material including food scraps, table refuse, galley refuse, food wrappers, waste from passenger and crew quarters, and meals that were not consumed. Solid waste or garbage becomes regulated when is has been in a port outside the United States or Canada.”



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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