Virgin Atlantic wins Green Award for Recycling
- By Robyn Kimber -
- Jul 11, 2011
Virgin Atlantic won a Green Award for Recycling. We spoke to Ruth Matthew about how they achieved that.
Name: Ruth Matthew
Company: Virgin Atlantic
Role: Business Sustainability Executive
Length at Virgin Atlantic: Nearly 5 years but in a few different roles.
Loves: Playing hockey and sunny relaxing Sundays in London.
Hates: Mushrooms and serious breaches of public transport etiquette.
Recommends: Obviously checking out www.virgin-atlantic.com/changeisintheair for more info on what we’re up to.
What do you do at Virgin Atlantic?
Basically day-to-day management of sustainability initiatives, looking after monitoring and reporting of progress against sustainability targets and co-ordination of internal and external sustainability communications.
Can you tell us a bit more about the award you won?
We won the Gatwick Diamond Green Business Award for Recycling. This was awarded for our commitment to recycling and the positive impact on our business, as well as the local community and the environment. It’s a great achievement as we weren’t just judged within the aviation industry but against businesses in all sectors and the judges verdict was that “they aren’t just doing what is required, instead, they are striving forwards and performing beyond expectations. In line with the ethos ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’, they are leading the way in their industry, particularly with regards to exploring and implementing innovative ways to recycle a wide range of items and multitude of commodities. They are indeed making an outstanding effort!”
Part of your role is helping Virgin Atlantic manage waste. In 2007 you set targets to recycle or reuse 50% of waste from flights and ground operations by 2012. That is one year away, are you going to hit your target?
On the ground we’ve done phenomenally well, smashing our target of 50% recycling and reuse a couple of years ahead of schedule. In order to make things more difficult for ourselves we changed our target to getting to 75% recycling or reuse rates. In the air it’s a bit more difficult with some pretty strict regulations governing our waste management, and whilst we’ve introduced a number of measures to both reduce and recycle onboard waste it’s very difficult for us to know how we’re getting on because we don’t have reliable data on waste quantities coming off our aircraft as it’s managed by the airport authorities and goes into facilities shared with other carriers. That doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our target and are still working incredibly hard to reduce and recycle however we’ve a bit of leg-work to do before we can report on this. So watch this space!
How have you managed to increase your recycling rates?
Through leaving no stone unturned. Initially our focus was very much on ensuring that we were recycling all the basics as well as we could through staff engagement campaigns and new signage etc. Once we’d mastered the basics we started picking apart our general waste stream (often very literally!) to find out what was in it and investigating ways to recycle as many items as possible that would have previously ended up in landfill. We’re really lucky to have some fantastic recycling partners such as MNH Cabin Services who recycle a number of items from our aircraft such as amenity kits and headsets.
Where have you made the most progress?
We’ve made such phenomenal progress overall that it’s difficult to say one area! However the steps we’ve taken to reduce the waste from our staff restaurants is a notable highlight. Last year we were shortlisted for the British Institute of Facilities Management Sustainability and Environmental Impact award in recognition of the work we’ve done with our caterers to both reduce waste and increase recycling rates. This has involved saving 30,000 kg’s of packaging waste each year from our restaurants!
Was anything a struggle?
Tight turnaround times, strict regulations and some extremely bizarre items to dispose of are just a few of the reasons we’ve had to be innovative with our recycling. Coming up with ways to recycle our waste with the lowest environmental impact, whilst maintaining business as usual has been challenging and we’ve often had to put in a lot of leg-work but we’ve made amazing progress over the last few years thanks to the hard work of a lot of people around the business.
Are you going to up your targets after 2012?
Our sustainability strategy is constantly evolving in order to ensure we are focussing on our impact as effectively as possible. 2012 is obviously a big year for us as it was the date set for most of our targets, this means it will be a great opportunity to review them.
What advice would you give someone working within a business that is trying to increase recycling rates?
One persons rubbish is another’s treasure. If you think there’s absolutely nothing that can be done with an item don’t be afraid to be innovative and to hunt around, however ridiculous it might seem chances are someone will find a use for it. From our in-flight entertainment DVD’s going on to a second life as the lenses in traffic lights to our old aircraft seat cushions becoming the packing for car dashboards everything has a use!
If you were a vegetable what would you be and why?
I’ve always thought there’s nothing quite as versatile and under-rated as a potato.
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