We’re all used to separating our recyclables from our waste at home, but have you ever felt a pang of guilt on an aircraft when all your on-board waste is often collected in the same refuse bag? In a bid to address this issue, British Airways has just started a programme to collect and recycle aluminium cans on its inbound long-haul London Heathrow services, and other airlines appear to be following suit.
Strict European Union regulations mean that all cabin waste from non-EU countries “has to be incinerated or land-filled”, BA head of environment Jonathon Counsell tells the APEX editor’s blog. “The key is to separate food waste from recyclables.”
The UK carrier has been doing this on its short-haul flights for a couple of years now, but on 8 April the programme was rolled out to include inbound long-haul services. As Counsell points out, “90% of on-board waste is from long-haul flights”. International catering waste regulations currently prevent the airline from introducing the programme on its outbound long-haul flights.
The new initiative follows a trial period of collecting drinks cans separately on BA’s long-haul flights into Heathrow. “There is a separate recyclables bag and at first we’ll focus on aluminium cans,” says Counsell. “The key is to separate as early as possible because no food waste can touch the recyclable.”
Aluminium cans collected from flights are sent to a materials recovery facility at Heathrow, operated by BA’s catering supplier DHL. The airline also points out in its corporate responsibility report that its aircraft cleaning partners “recycle newspapers from our inbound flights into Heathrow and Gatwick and we expect to extend this to other locations as facilities and regulations permit”.
Not to be outdone, BA’s arch-rival Virgin Atlantic says that “aircraft on-board recycling is something we’re very much working on at the moment, so there will be more to come from us on that subject”.
Virgin Atlantic already has an agreement in place with MNH Sustainable Cabin Services to recycle its used amenity kits and headsets. The carrier’s head of sustainability, Emma Harvey, says that crew uniform recycling is also a priority for the airline: “Crew have to return their uniforms to a central point and they are all recycled.”
Another airline which has been active on the crew uniform recycling front is KLM, which has been turning discarded uniforms into handbags and flip flops for some time. The carrier recently turned its used crew uniforms into carpeting for its new business class cabin, with the help of Desso Aviation.