Heathrow is to trial new technology which it says could allow it to recycle 100 per cent of its plastic waste.

The airport says that the recycling unit – which turns plastic “into its original oil state”, could divert up to 5,000 tonnes of plastic waste from incineration each year.

The oil would then be processed in a separate facility, to create “new generation, low-carbon products such as furniture and uniforms”, with the possibility of it also being transformed into Jet A1-type sustainable fuel in the future.

It is estimated that between 5 and 8kg of plastics oil would be produced for every 10kg of waste handled per hour.

University College London and Sheffield-based company Catal will use funding from Heathrow’s Innovation Prize to set-up the new research and development unit this autumn, aiming to make the technology commercially viable by 2025, allowing Catal and UCL to roll out the unit to other airports.

The partnership beat other applications from SME-sized business across the UK, with Catal and UCL lecture Massimiliano Materazzi found to have “the best solutions which could solve some of the sustainability challenges facing airports and the aviation industry more widely”.

Heathrow says that at present “close to 50 per cent of airport and aircraft cabin waste is recycled”, which it claims is “comparable with most local authorities despite the strict regulations in place for cabin waste from international flights, which mean most of that waste must be sent for incineration or landfilled”.

Commenting on the news Heathrow sustainability and environment director Matt Gorman, said:

“People are rightly concerned about plastic waste. Tens of thousands of tonnes of it are produced by UK air passengers every year which is something we must tackle.

“ That’s why we’re helping to fund this R&D project which could make Heathrow the first UK airport to be able to recycle all plastic waste generated at the airport.

“Coupled with new regulations from Government on processing cabin waste, it would create a step-change in how airports across the UK manage plastic waste – giving passengers the confidence to travel knowing their plastics are sorted.”