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  • Airline waste – a problem that needs fixing

    Thursday, May 18, 2017

    You are probably well aware of the waste problem in our oceans. But how about the one in our skies?

    Fast Facts:

    • According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Airlines generated 5.2m tonnes of waste in 2016, most of which went to landfill or incineration. This figure is set to double over the next 15 years.
    • Toilet waste is included in that statistic. But so are miniature wine bottles, half-eaten lunch trays, unused toothbrushes and other hallmarks of air travel.
    • A Spanish project launched last autumn by a group of companies including Iberia Airlines and Ferrovial Services aims to recover 80% of cabin waste coming into Madrid’s Barajas airport by mid-2020 through simple measures such as using trolleys designed for waste separation. About 2,500 cabin crew members will be trained in the basics of waste separation as part of the push.
    • The programme, which aims to produce guidelines for use in other airports, is also exploring low-packaging meals and reusable cutlery, as well as data-led solutions.
    • Last year, Gatwick airport opened an on-site waste-to-energy plant, reducing the need for lorries to transport waste elsewhere. Like Heathrow, it is also targeting a 70% recycling rate by 2020.
    • America’s United Airlines has switched to compostable paper cups and last year began donating unused amenity kits to homeless and women’s shelters – it expects to divert more than 27 tonnes-worth by the end of the first year.
    • Virgin has set up a system for recycling all parts of its headsets, including ear sponges, which are used as flooring for equestrian centres.
    • Michael Gill – IATA’s head of environment – says that regulation is key. At the moment EU animal health legislation, drawn up as a reaction to diseases like foot and mouth, dictates that all catering waste arriving from outside EU borders be treated as high-risk and incinerated or buried in deep landfill.
    • Most important, however, is getting the cabin crew’s buy-in says Magda Golebiewska, group environment manager at TUI Airlines. This can be a challenge since the crew is already busy meeting on-board sales targets and looking after passengers, she says.
    • Cabin waste costs the industry $500m (£400m) per year, according to IATA, a figure that it says is rising faster than waste volumes thanks to growing disposal costs.
    • Matt Rance, chief executive of MNH Sustainable Cabin Services, says that bringing down cabin waste will require airlines to take a different approach to procurement. If they can be persuaded to focus on a product’s full life cost, rather than unit price, then investing in more durable headsets or blankets and ditching disposables starts to make sense, he says.
    • Designing cabin products with waste minimisation in mind can also help, Rance says. Qantas, for example, is combining its charity donation envelope with its headset package, cutting one polythene bag per passenger per flight.

    Source: The Guardian: Environment, Olivia Boyd, 01/04/017

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