Image: Constanza Bravo

APEX Insight: Better waste-management initiatives benefit the planet and save airlines money.

When it comes to waste management, talking trash is a good thing. A study of US airports and airlines published in 2006 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found plenty of room for improvement. The study determined that airports and airlines could achieve an overall recycling rate of 31 percent by redirecting 70 percent of the discarded aluminum, paper, plastic and glass products sent to landfills. NRDC also suggested that airlines could save more than $100,000 a year through recycling and waste management.

Changing old habits isn’t easy, but airlines have listened. Cathay Pacific was well ahead of this trend, commissioning an independent study on waste reduction and recycling strategies back in 1996. The study’s findings helped inform the airline’s cabin service and purchasing strategy. It also inspired collaboration with Hong Kong Airport Services and Cathay Pacific Catering Services to recycle a wide range of waste products from everyday operations. Cathay reduces food waste at the source, through better portion management, and donates remaining food waste to local pig farms.

“Airlines have full knowledge and control of what they load, but most do not measure what comes off.” —Courtney McGregor, Closed Loop

In 2010, Qantas conducted a joint audit with recycling consultants Closed Loop to have a better picture of the waste left after international flights. “Airlines have full knowledge and control of what they load, but most do not measure what comes off,” Closed Loop’s Courtney McGregor tells Waste Management Review. “We found from the cabin that mostly water bottles and plastic wrap were left in seatback pockets, and almost half of the amenity kits were left unused. By weight, we determined 59 percent of this waste stream could be recycled.”

Other ambitious recycling programs have reduced waste and benefited local communities. Qatar Airways and Qatar Aircraft Catering Company launched a new waste reduction and recycling program in Doha that has recycled 266 tons of cardboard and plastics, and converted 6,300 liters of cooking oil into biodiesel. From 2007 to 2014, Delta Air Lines’ in-flight recycling program turned rebates from recycled items in 10 million pounds of trash into $600,000, funding six Habitat for Humanity houses in cities around its domestic network.

“Talking Trash” was originally published in the 6.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.