Case Study

Reduce, reuse and recycle

Circular economy

Waste minimisation efforts have grown increasingly important for airlines and airports as they work to reduce, reuse and recycle cabin and terminal waste. Particular attention has been paid to eliminating single use plastics (SUPs), which are largely found in packaging.

In 2018, the industry generated a total of 6.1 million tonnes of cabin waste. To combat this issue, airlines are exploring viable alternatives. In-flight catering operates under strict food safety, hygiene controls, freshness and weight requirements, so plastic wrapping is often the go-to option.

Since 2017, Air New Zealand has diverted more than 890 tonnes of inflight waste and removed 55 million SUP items from its operations in 2019. British Airways has a plan to eliminate 700 tonnes of SUP by the end of 2020 and Finnair plans to remove 230 tonnes of plastic on its flights by 2022. JetBlue has established a recycling programme to properly sort and dispose of waste, which has led to 30 million recycled bottles and cans annually.

In 2019, LATAM Airlines Group launched a sustainability campaign that includes eliminating more than 20 tonnes of waste from domestic flights in Chile alone with plans to expand the initiative to all of the airline’s operations in Latin America. At Vancouver International Airport, 2.4 of 4.8 kilogrammes of waste were recycled and composted in 2018, exceeding its 2020 target for the third year in a row.

The need to reduce waste has prompted airlines to generate technological solutions in the quest for sustainable alternatives. To replace newspapers on board flights, both Air France and KLM introduced mobile applications that have resulted in a reduction of 1,300 tonnes of paper waste per year and 4,600 tonnes of carbon emissions averted.
New approaches that could see the removal of plastic cups on board flights are also being tested. In 2019, Etihad operated a flight without any plastics on board, using edible coffee cups as an alternative to traditional plastic. At the same time, United Airlines is testing a recyclable paper cup for hot beverages which would be the first of its kind in the industry.

Many countries impose strict controls on catering waste from international flights to avoid the transfer of diseases, which prevents reuse and recycling. As these regulations mean carriers’ hands are tied, the industry advocates the adoption of smarter waste regulation, allowing more recycling while maintaining human and animal health controls.