May 22, 2024

Industry calls for cabin waste rule change

Airlines and leading players in the inflight catering sector have come together to issue a joint statement on the need for smarter regulations around international catering waste.

The Airline Catering Association, IATA and International Flight Services Association (IFSA), along with airline industry partners have submitted a joint recommendation to the European Commission (EU) urging it to undertake an urgent review of the risks from International Catering Waste (ICW) and for the results of that review to drive a change in the regulations which currently block sustainability ambitions.

While the regulatory review takes place, the statement says: “It is critical that, in the interim, EU Member States have access to harmonised guidance on the reuse and recycling of waste for international flights”. Concluding: “The sector stands ready to contribute towards the drafting of this guidance.”

The statement is part of growing pressure for ICW regulations to change to better support the reduction in cabin waste, allow more material recovery, and secure financial benefits and improved customer satisfaction.

Catering waste from within the EU is increasingly being efficiently processed, recycled and reused, and opportunities for a circular economy are emerging. However for catering waste generated on flights coming from outside the EU, the story is completely different. Current EU legislation (Regulation (EU) 1069/2009) classifies this as Category 1 (CAT1) ICW which requires disposal by incineration or deep burial in an authorised landfill.

The statement adds that through this regulation: “EU legislation de facto inhibits reuse, recycling and biotreatment of ICW from outside the EU. In practice, almost everything is burnt, even unopened bottles of water, or buried when incineration is not possible, in spite of EU airlines and passengers having a strong desire and means to do more in terms of reuse and recycling.”

The Regulation was designed 13 years ago to avoid the spread of animal disease, which the sector fully supports, but the statement questions whether it is still relevant as it does not appear to be risk-based and prevents airlines from segregating, recovering and/or recycling waste. In addition, no ICW guidance has been provided at EU level, which results in differences in implementation and application across Member States.

In order to determine the potential risks to animal health posed by ICW, IATA commissioned a study from a food safety and animal health consultancy which has concluded there is no evidence that ICW from airlines has ever caused an animal disease outbreak, and that no quantitative risk assessments or industry impact consultations were undertaken prior to the legislation being set. It also showed that  there is no scientific justification for inflight milk and milk products being classified as CAT1 as they have been subjected to heat treatment, and that there is more risk of disease from concealed smuggling of meat products in passengers’ baggage than is posed by catering waste.

The CAT1 classification also directly hampers the EU’s Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive (EU) 2019/904 which encourages the replacement of SUPs with other materials. CAT1 classification means alternative recyclable materials still need to be incinerated or landfilled and bio-based alternatives cannot be biotreated.

Full statement: