Estimates for the volume of aircraft waste produced are believed to be in the region of 6 million tonnes every year – that’s likely to rise to around 10 million tonnes by 2030.

FINN took a look at how these issues could be solved through industry-wide collaboration efforts on waste reduction ideas and the introduction of workable policies. Within America, the volume of aluminium cans produced is estimated to be enough to build 60 Boeing 777 aircraft.

The International Aviation Waste Management Association (IAWMA) is trying to bring together airports to get policies in place and governments regulators to work together to tackle the waste mountain as the industry moves towards a more sustainable future.

Harmonisation of procurement will be a challenge

Andrew Wilson, Executive Director of IAWMA said: “For organisations like the IAWA, as an industry aggregator, what we’re really here to do is take the initiative to push
forward the waste management agenda, and champion some needs for standards. That’s one of the things that’s a big, big challenge, the harmonisation of procurement.”

“So basically choosing materials at source that actually have a full end of life strategy associated with them. And really looking at single use design and eco design. Before COVID-19 occurred, many airlines were transitioning away from the plastic knife and straw and moving to bamboo and others.”

“The challenge with all of that is it fully biodegradable in all settings? And today we’re not aware of any real meaningful global supply chain strategy that aggregates and actually collects all this waste and effectively sorts it, streams it and monetizes it, which is another opportunity for the industry.”

Aggregated and collaborative approach

Getting different businesses within the sector to talk with each other is another challenge, according to Gregoire James, CEO of recycling company, GeneraCycle in Toronto, Canada. He added: “The reality is airports and airlines really can’t do this alone. You know, they need an aggregated and collaborative, readily available, market making platform, specifically rooted in a circular economy.”

“A platform with a mission to provide a base of research and expert knowledge that can drive value for the industry, both for the short term and the long term. So really framework is needed. And collaboration is needed amongst these groups. Now we’re talking of course, about large organisations, multinational corporations. So each of these on their own, have their own entities and groups that focus on these activities. But again, more collaboration is needed amongst the two of them.”

COVID-19 – an opportunity to rethink waste

Wilson said that the industry should consider the sudden changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity for waste reduction. He said the current crisis could boost motivation to do more which could result in a “dramatic impact.”

He added new waste reduction measures could run alongside CO2 reduction challenges and would depend on how various states support their airline industry and the incentives and programmes put in place to support these.

“Coming from the industry, I understood sort of two primary drivers, and that was regulators and revenues,” he explained. “So the fact that the regulators now are also raising environmental questions to the airlines revenues, well, we all know where the revenues are at this point in time. And we’re actually saying that in a circular economy, there is cost savings, and there’s actual monetization to be made of these waste streams.”

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