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Flying High for the Environment: How Do Airlines Recycle?

When you think about the waste an airline creates, it’s not just fuel and the odd left-over in-flight meal; airlines produce millions of tons of waste from worn carpets, uniforms and seat cushions. Thankfully, many companies have started to consider their environmental wellness, getting creative with their recycling and turning their used goods into bags, quilts, shoes, carpets, and in one instance, a wedding dress.

Life vests are only good for six years before they need replacing, but everything on board a plane has an expiration date, even the seats! Matt Mahler, founder of Tierra Ideas – a design label that’s teamed with Delta Airlines to create bags and wallets from the carrier’s old seat covers and curtains – explained, ‘After so many dry cleanings, seat covers lose their fire retardant coating, so by FAA rules, they can’t remain on the plane.’ Since the beginning of their partnership in 2010, Tierra ideas has helped the airline to recycle 7,973 pounds of textiles.

However, nothing generates as much potential rubbish as a merger or logo change. Re-branding a whole airline means that any material bearing the old emblem or company colours needs to be scrapped, which is something that KLM discovered when they changed their uniforms 18 months ago. The company gave tons of useless fabric to Desso Aviation, a carpet company with a zero-waste, 100% biodegradable approach known as “cradle-to-cradle”. Now, the uniforms have been woven into carpets, which were then kitten out on the new World Business Class cabin on KLM’s Boeing 747-400 fleet in July.

Finnair has a more do-gooder approach to recycling. The airline sends old uniforms to clean up oil spills, blankets to refugee camps in Myanmar and airline seats to be transformed into passenger seats in Finnish Red Cross emergency vehicles. Recently, the winner in a Finnish wedding design competition used KLM uniforms to create her couture gown. Kati Ihamäki, Finnair’s vice president for sustainable development, commented, ‘We don’t need to make a new business opportunity for ourselves; we’re not in the recycling business and don’t want to go into it. Instead, we’d rather help others find and create new opportunities from our old products.’


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This entry was posted on July 1, 2013 by and tagged , , .
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