June 24, 2024

Wasting away?

Sustainability is creeping back towards to the top of the agenda. April Waterston debates cabin waste priorities with Anne De Hauw

Airlines are facing so many challenges post-pandemic Should reducing cabin waste really be a priority in the post-pandemic recovery era?

It definitely should be, from whatever angle we look at it. Firstly, passengers are more eco-conscious post pandemic and expect a response to climate change. Secondly, the airline industry has reconfirmed its commitment to cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2050, reducing noise reduction and managing waste responsibly. And thirdly, from a global perspective, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) has a specific target to cut global food waste in half by 2030, and is a fantastic opportunity for airlines.

What are the first steps needed to reduce inflight waste?

We need an on-demand consumption model (pre-order), enabled by digitising the end-to-end experience front- and back-end. This way we only load the products that will actually be consumed. Then airlines, airports and their service providers must collaborate and work with regulators to simplify inflight service and standardise the materials used to generate opportunities for a circular eco-system.

In this respect, the IAWMA (International Aviation Waste Management Association) is trying to move the needle. It is a non-profit organisation set up after doing global research (funded by Federal Aviation Administration), which clearly showed: a lack of standards and programmes for travel, a lack of targeted waste collection streams and advocacy around international waste and a lack of collaboration. It aims to share best practices.

Is global standardisation achievable? 

Rome wasn’t built in a day but someone had to lay the foundations. The IAWMA is advocating industry standardisation and has launched the Aviation Global Zero Waste Pact (the Pact). The Pact aims to conceptually align the travel industry and governments worldwide to champion the standardisation, design, supply, and regulatory oversight needed for the recovery of single-use items. Signatory participation signals the air transport industry is serious about its solid waste sustainability. The Pact posits criteria for a targeted stakeholder-centric 2025 zero-waste framework to decrease air transport’s reliance on traditional waste strategies and offers all players a vital lever for measurable solid waste reduction.

Is recycling always the best end-goal?

Our planet’s resources are not infinite, and public awareness of our ‘throw-away culture’ is moving us towards a circular economy. In other words: making products last longer, and recovering materials or other benefits from them when they can’t be fixed. Recycling and other waste management initiatives are part of the waste hierarchy – a tool which indicates an order of preference for actions to reduce and manage waste. For instance, it places energy generation (recovery) below reducing waste, re-use, and recycling and composting, meaning those options should be considered first; but above waste disposal, meaning that waste-to-energy is preferable to landfill.

Whose responsibility is it to drive this waste management change?

Airlines have the responsibility to drive and fund change. They are dependent on their suppliers, so catering has a responsibility too. 

A commitment to circularity standards gives the industry the best chance to solve these issues holistically but standards alone are not enough. Wide adoption is key to modernise regulation and change effectively.

What happens if we don’t change?

I hope we never need to know! Sustainability has become an increasingly important part of an airline’s brand proposition and is likely to be a primary differentiator going forward. 

Now is the moment to invest in it and shift towards a true circular economy. 

Anne De Hauw

Founder, IN AIR Travel Experience

Anne is the Founder of IN Air Travel Experience, a boutique Customer Experience curator and Innovation accelerator for air travel, with strong focus on environmental sustainability, and key objective to design and deliver future-proof guest experiences for airlines. She is also a member of the Board of Advisors at the IAWMA.