Making headsets sustainable


As headset styles evolve, Jo Austin reports on how sustainability is moving up the agenda with airlines showing a growing preference for rotable headsets and recycling over the disposable earbud

Customer-focused airlines like Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Qantas have moved quickly to reflect the trend and have discovered this style of headset not only performs better in terms of comfort and sound quality but can give financial and environmental benefits over their single-use counterparts too.

They may appear to cost more but when these airlines focused on the product’s full life cost, rather than a unit price, investing in more durable onboard products and ditching disposables made sense. Disposables are still available but as more airlines think about environmental impact their popularity looks set to fall.

Mark Russell, ceo of headset supplier Linstol (, says sustainability is now a part of its social responsibility thinking. He says: “Trends suggest airlines are buying better quality earbuds which passengers can retain and use again. Historically, this was not the case, they just supplied the cheapest, but this is changing.”

Following a tie up with MNH Sustainable Cabin Services ( – said to be the world’s largest headset refurbisher – Linstol is expanding its recycling options. It is also constantly analysing new materials and says: “If the headset is strong enough for multiple use then there are definitely savings to be made by using rotable headsets.”

Sustainable choices

Australia has been ahead of the game with regards to sustainability and Buzz Products ( in Melbourne actively seeks environmentally-friendly options for its clients. Leonard Hamersfeld, director, says: “Ultimately it’s the client’s decision but we present a variety of inflight audio options.”

The company’s recent earbud programme for Delta Air Lines was a brand collaboration with Billboard, one of the world’s most authoritative music brands. Packaged in retail-quality foil pouches, these are positioned as a passenger gift so more likely to be used post-flight. “It’s about creating products passengers want to keep,” says Hamersfeld.

When considering rotable items, Buzz looks beyond just the product itself to assess the entire lifecycle including what is involved in refurbishing the product in terms of effort, cost and waste to assess the impact overall.

Inflight Direct ( based in Florida has always favoured rotable headsets as the best solution for the industry. Thomas Mockler, ceo, says: “If an airline has the infrastructure to collect, refurbish and reuse the headset then the overall cost per use is reduced each time. This allows a better quality model to be used with larger speaker elements which in turn provides better sound quality to the passengers.

“In Economy you will normally see earbuds because of the large volumes but most airlines encourage passengers to take these home for use with their personal devices (although they would not now be compatible with the new iPhone 7). We are always looking to introduce new, low-cost rotable models. As technology evolves, headsets need to keep up with the changes in both the electronics and the special effects that are now standard with today’s movies.”

Eco advantages

Virgin Atlantic’s 2017 sustainability report: Change Is In The Air, makes inspiring reading. Collaborating with MNH, the airline has cut cabin waste to 453 tonnes – a reduction of 43%. Headsets are among items diverted from landfill, with sponges from rotable headsets instead being used to surface an equestrian centre and plastic parts used to make swings and picnic benches, amongst other things!

In one effective move, Virgin Atlantic avoided using 12 tonnes of plastic when it redesigned its Change for Children charity collection paper envelope to fit neatly around its headsets, replacing the polythene bag while also reducing 6.5 tonnes of onboard weight. The multi-purpose Envowrap manufactured on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper was another MNH solution designed to cut plastics waste.

A similar redesign is now used by Qantas. Its Unicef charity donation envelope doubles as a headset tamper-proof package and is used instead of a polythene bag. Coupled with a simple headset wrap in its premium cabin, Qantas diverts 9000km of plastic from landfill every year.

Investing in a reusable (rather than a single-use, disposable headsets), Qantas claims to have diverted the equivalent of two double decker buses worth of plastics from landfill last year.

Rhode Island-based AVID ( works across six headsets markets. Director of sales, travel, Christine Contant, says: “Our focus over the last five years has been on transitioning AVID from a low-cost provider to a more sustainable value-added provider. Our clients are always given rotable options and for those with maintenance logistics and low-cost labour, the rotable solution is the most cost-effective. It is all down to the airline’s business model, while keeping in mind the varied international standards, ecological and logistical requirements”.

Adds Christine: “We offer an earphone recycling programme to all our clients and last year saw our hospitality clients recycle over 150,000 earphones. Some clients opt in to use third party cleaning services to sanitise, repackage and redistribute headsets for re-use and our low-cost headsets are always designed with a rotable focus. We also offer an earbud recycling solution.”

In the bid to repair and reuse damaged headsets, MNH gives clients the choice of using in-house teams or partner with disabled and prison sector workers in over 30 locations. These provide a high-quality output whilst learning back-to-work skills and gaining a sense of worth. Everyone’s a winner!