Zero waste is a philosophy that’s encouraging people to recycle and re-use. Airlines in the Middle East have taken initiatives to slash waste and the use of plastic on board aircraft. Anuradha Deenapanray and Vincent Chappard report.
The airline industry has been criticised for its lack of cabin waste recycling, which threatens the environment. Now, initiatives are being taken to meet the sustainability challenge.
The situation is serious. Research undertaken by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicates that the average passenger generates 1.4kg of waste per flight. That means the sector created 4.9 million tonnes of cabin waste in 2016, chalking up a bill for $790 million.
With the current passenger growth rate of 6.5%, this volume is set to double in the next decade.
Travellers agree that something has to be done. According to Professor Ralf Wagner, from Germany’s Kassel University, who conducted passenger surveys on behalf of several airlines, actions are urgent.
The World Airlines Clubs Association (WACA), an international NGO advocating social and economic policies to promote responsible and sustainable travel and tourism, has also picked up on the issue.
President, Maga Ramasamy, said airline companies and passengers are more conscious about the amount of waste produced in the cabin, not only food but also plastic usage and, more particularly, the single-use plastic (SUP).
“Some airlines and their business partners, including caterers, have started initiating actions towards an integrated model to reduce, re-use and recycle (including energy recovery) waste collected on aircraft,” he pointed out.
The message is certainly getting across – and the Middle East is playing its part.
In April 2019, Etihad Airways was the first airline in the region to operate a flight without any single-use plastics on board.
Reducing waste and, in particular, reducing plastic is a mission for Linda Celestino, Etihad’s vice president of guest services and delivery. “This is part of our sustainability charter,” she pointed out.
Emirates has made a network-wide commitment to reduce single-use plastics on its aircraft. Since June, eco-friendly paper straws have been introduced and all Emirates flights will soon be plastic straw-free.
Qatar Airways and the Qatar Aircraft Catering Company (QACC) have launched a new waste reduction and recycling programme in Doha. Over three months, the two companies have recycled 266 tonnes of materials, including cardboard, plastic wrapping and a variety of plastic containers. These materials have been collected by two local firms for recycling, along with 6,300 litres of cooking oil, which will be converted into biodiesel.
Further afield, Air Mauritius has reduced the use of SUP by 20 tonnes per year. Flights to Rodrigues and Reunion Island have been free from single-use plastics since October.
Australia’s Qantas marked a milestone last May by operating the “world’s first zero-waste-to-landfill flight” from Sydney to Adelaide. About 1,000 single-use plastic items were substituted with sustainable alternatives or removed altogether from the flight, including individually-packaged servings of milk and Vegemite.
And, in Europe, Air France has implemented preventive actions by sorting and rethinking its waste circuit, as well as recycling.
But solutions for a zero-waste flight are still complex. They are based on coordination and cooperation between airlines, airports, service providers and the manufacturers, and the adoption of risk-based regulations.
The biggest challenge of this global initiative is how to manage sustainably the reduction of waste and plastic throughout the whole process, while maintaining or enhancing both service and the customer experience.