Plastic on planes 2,

Plastics in Airline Catering [Part 2] – 4 airline sustainability initiatives that can reduce the impact on the environment


The impact of the air transport industry on the environment is significant. There’s no denying that airlines rely heavily on single-use plastics with more than 5 million tonnes of cabin waste created in a single year, according to IATA. However, recent initiatives, from tackling carbon emissions to reducing single-use plastic both on the ground and inflight, indicate that airlines and airports are united in their efforts to reduce their impact on the environment.


Here we highlight four of the latest initiatives from SAS, Hi Fly, Qantas and Singapore Airlines.


SAS – ending duty free sales to reduce weight


Just last month, SAS announced that from this autumn it will cease its duty free sales inflight. While the moves comes amid a backdrop of a shift towards inflight e-commerce, it will help to reduce the overall weight of the aircraft, which in turn will save fuel and cut emissions.


SAS’s efforts to improve the sustainability of its operations are split into two areas and involve a series of initiatives in each area: improved fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and innovation, sustainable products and services. As part of these efforts, a number of changes will be introduced onboard SAS flights over the coming months in order to reduce the weight of its aircraft.


According to SAS, tax-free sales are a popular service onboard its flights, however, the airline has acknowledged a change in passengers’ buying behaviour with sustainability becoming an important factor. The airline stated that it will develop solutions to offer passengers “more modern ways of buying and receiving goods in connection with their journey”.


SAS’s EVP Commercial Karl Sandlund, commented: “SAS is aiming to cut emissions by at least 25% by 2030. Every step on the way to sustainable travel is important. Every initiative to reduce weight and thereby cut fuel consumption helps.”


Some of the sustainability initiatives currently being carried out by SAS include new, fuel-efficient aircraft with reduced emissions; weight reductions to existing aircraft to reduce fuel consumption; major initiatives to improve access to high-quality biofuel; and a partnership with Airbus to develop electric and hybrid aircraft. According to the airline, perhaps the biggest sustainability initiative that SAS is undertaking right now is the modernisation of its fleet with the fuel-efficient Airbus A320neo. SAS has ordered 80 A320neos and so far, 25 have been put into service.


The recently announced cooperation between SAS and Airbus to develop electric aircraft is an example of a larger long-term partnership. But while electric planes are being developed, SAS has stated its plans to use more biofuel and it is cooperating with energy suppliers, such as Preem, to accelerate the production of locally produced biofuel.


Hi Fly’s world-first single-use plastic-free flights


In January, Portuguese charter carrier Hi Fly claimed it had carried out the world’s first single-use plastic-free flights. The airline replaced plastic cutlery with bamboo, while cups, spoons, salt and pepper shakers, packaging for bedding, dishes, individual butter pots, soft drink bottles and toothbrushes were switched with compostable alternatives crafted from recycled material on a series of full passenger test flights to and from Brazil.


The world’s first single-use plastic-free flight took passengers on a trip from the carrier’s base in Lisbon to Natal, Brazil, on an Airbus A340 and was followed by three further 100% single-use plastic-free test flights in addition to a series of 12 reduced plastic journeys between Lisbon and Porto to Fortaleza, Recife, Maceió and Salvador. The total weight of plastic saved across the whole trial of 16 flights was 1,500kg.


The eco-alternatives used were plant-based catering disposables made from renewable, lower carbon or recycled materials, that can be composted along with food waste, as well as paper, card, bamboo, chinaware, glass and stainless steel.


After the flights, excess food waste and packaging were collected and delivered to a licensed waste management operator where they were processed for energy production.


Hi Fly has vowed that its flights will be free of single-use plastic items by the end of this year. President Paulo Mirpuri commented: “Our target of being plastic-free by the end of the year seemed ambitious to many in our industry, but by believing in our project and working hard to make it happen, we can see that it is entirely achievable and our focus now will be to commit to our deadline.”


Qantas operates world’s first zero waste flight


Earlier in the year, Qantas announced that it has operated the first-ever commercial flight to produce no landfill waste, marking the start of its plan to cut 100 million single-use plastics by end-2020 and eliminate 75% of the airline’s waste by end-2021.


All inflight products on board Qantas’ flight from Sydney to Adelaide on 8 May were disposed of via compost, reuse or recycling. Qantas Domestic CEO Andrew David said the trial flight was an important milestone for the national carrier’s plan to slash waste.


About 1,000 single-use plastic items were substituted with sustainable alternatives or removed altogether from the flight, including individually-packaged servings of milk and Vegemite. Alternative products used during the flight included meal containers made from sugar cane and cutlery made from crop starch, all of which is fully compostable.


Customers were also encouraged to use digital boarding passes and electronic bag tags where possible, with staff on hand to make sure any paper passes and tags were disposed of sustainably.


In its effort to remove 100 million single-use plastic items every year by the end of 2020, Qantas and Jetstar will replace 45 million plastic cups, 30 million cutlery sets, 21 million coffee cups and 4 million headrest covers with sustainable alternatives.


However, airlines are legally required to dispose of some materials permanently, such as quarantined food from international flights and Qantas has stated that it will work with suppliers and government to reduce the volume of this waste.


SIA’s plans to use AI and machine learning to better predict customer’s consumption patterns


Singapore Airlines is also stepping up its inflight sustainability efforts by further reducing food wastage on board, cutting back on the use of plastics for inflight items and increasing the use of sustainable ingredients in inflight meals.


“We are proud to have embarked on a new era of greater sustainability, with an enhanced focus on environmentally responsible practices on board that will significantly reduce our carbon footprint and improve the sustainable travel experience of our customers,” said SIA’s Senior Vice President Customer Experience, Yeoh Phee Teik.


SIA currently employs customer surveys, data analytics and staff feedback, and works with its caterers to reduce food wastage after flights. The airline has also stated plans to automate data collection and further leverage technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to better predict customers’ consumption patterns and further reduce cabin food waste.