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Rajiv Gandhi International Airport Green to Silver to Gold

Airport waste management

The mind-set of the RGIA management towards waste is this: waste is a resource. By following the three ‘Rs’ (reduce, reuse, recycle), it is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that lesser and lesser waste is generated, and that which is generated is promptly segregated and either disposed properly, or processed to form useful products.

The range of waste generated is vast: Food waste, paper, tin, glass, plastic, hazardous, biomedical, construction, etc. Using Chassismounted Hydraulic Compactors, Auto Tippers, Multi Cap Refuse Collectors and other devices, this waste is collected and brought to a centralised waste processing facility. Here, waste is segregated into various categories. While the passenger terminals have always two bins side-by-side for wet and dry waste collection, not all passengers put the right waste in the right bin. “But over time, our need to segregate waste is reducing. More and more people are conscious about separating different kinds of garbage.”

Food waste is mixed with sawdust and digesting bacteria; open-air, aerobic composting is done, and up to two tonnes of compost produced every day. This compost is used in place of chemical fertilisers for the airport landscaping, and at on-site vegetable farms. RGIA was the first Indian airport to set up its own composting plant.

Non-biodegradable waste is collected and separated according to categories. Hazardous waste is put into closed containers and appropriately disposed to the authorised agencies. E-waste is collected by the IT department and handed over to authorised recyclers. Even oil and grease from aircraft maintenance is collected and handed over to the authorised agencies for the reprocessing. . Since the new terminal is being built and the existing one remodelled, excavated soil is shifted to low-lying areas, and steel waste and wood waste are sent to recyclers.

Wastewater is collected, treated and reused at the airport itself. It is pumped through a closed-pipe system to two in-house sewage treatment plants, where it undergoes continuous aeration that encourages the growth of bacteria which digest its organic constituents. After several stages of filtration, it is used for flushing purposes in the passenger terminal, as well as for landscaping. A whopping 46% of RGIA’s water need is met by its own recycled water.

Stakeholder sensitisation

An airport is managed by several agencies, each of which is itself under the authority of a different body. Members of some agencies, such as the CISF and Customs, are frequently transferred just as they are beginning to adapt to RGIA’s ethos. GMR facilitates better coordination between these agencies for better results. Five years ago, it launched a program called Rishta, to impart soft-skills training to airport employees.

“Here we have stakeholder engagement. We make them drivers of projects. We give them timelines, and see how they deliver. We are working for a cultural change towards being sensitive to the environment.”

RGIA was the first airport in the country to install waste recycling machines as a pilot project. These machines could crush plastic PET bottles, steel/ aluminium cans and plastic bags in an eco-friendly manner. Passengers who deposited this waste in the machine either got an option to simply make a donation (of waste), or claim a discount coupon in return for submitting their empty plastic water bottles/bags/metal cans.

Most airport retailers have phased out plastics thinner than 50 microns, and are using jute and paper substitutes.


According to government regulations, the airport area extends up to a 10km radius from the Airport Reference Point, most of which falls outside the boundary of the airport. Within this area, there should not be disposal of any kind of waste which can attract rodents and pests, which in turn attract birds. Birds are known to come into contact with aircraft during take-off and landing, impacting aircraft safety.

“We’ve gone to villages and schools in the adjoining areas, to teach them how to segregate and process garbage. Pamphlets don’t work; children are the best coaches for their parents. We’ve gone beyond having meetings, and just being reactive to a problem. Our team is continuously roaming the area not to get content for our management meetings, but to actually resolve problems.”

GMR has also mapped out the neighbouring areas so that when a problem area is identified, it knows which village/local/ government body should be contacted for conflict resolution.

Particular vigilance is maintained on poultry farms in the area, and how they dispose waste. They are constantly engaged with in dialogue, to ensure their business isn’t affected either. At times, GMR intercedes on their behalf with the government to ensure appropriate waste disposal machinery is in place.

Under the aegis of its Varalakshmi Foundation, GMR also provides free training and hostel stay to youths from the surrounding vicinity, and teaches them skills like housekeeping. Successful candidates are often hired from the campus itself.

In a recent survey, RGIA was rated the world’s 8th best airport by passengers; one of the parameters was service quality. The accolade surely comes as no surprise, and is well deserved.grid electricity

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