Sustainability is set to have a major impact on airline operations. Ian Harbison reviews some of the latest developments at Iberia Airlines that involve the cabin.

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    Iberia Airlines’ drive for sustainability includes the reduction, re-use, and recycling of plastics. This has seen a reduction of 68.5 tonnes in the amount of plastic loaded on board aircraft thanks to:

    • Paper that has replaced plastic for wrapping blankets and duvets.
    • The plastic packaging of some items in long haul Business class toilet kits which have been eliminated.
    • Headphones in all seating classes which are no longer wrapped in plastic.
    • The plastic wrapping of children’s kits on long haul flights also to be eliminated, as of September.
    • Plastic swizzle sticks for beverages to be replaced with bamboo ones.
    • Plastic bags used for collecting and storing soiled linen, blankets and pillows which are now thinner.
    • Paper drinking straws that are now replaced plastic ones.

    Iberia airlines drives sustainability

    Plastic use on the ground has also been reduced dramatically at Iberia Airlines’ Premium Lounges in the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, where returnable glass bottles have replaced cans and plastic containers, and suppliers have been asked to use bulk formats for many goods.

    This has led to a reduction of nearly one million cans and 200,000 plastic containers, or 23.5 tonnes of cans and 6.5 tonnes of plastic every year. However, since September 2016, Iberia has been coordinating the LIFE Zero Cabin Waste (ZCW) project.

    This runs until the end of 2019 and is co-funded by the EU (which is providing €1,438,247 of the total of €2,509,070). The airline has teamed with four partners:

    • Eco embes is a non-profit organisation that develops and runs systems created specifically for selective collection, recovery of packaging and packaging waste for its later treatment and upgrading.
    • ESCI-UPF School of International Studies, The UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change is based in ESCI-UPF, and has experience in the application of the life cycle approach for products and processes.
    • Ferrovial Servicios runs urban services, the operation, maintenance and management of facilities, as well as environmental solutions and consulting for the management of infrastructure assets. One of the main contributions to the Zero CabinWaste project is the management and valorisation of catering waste at its Fuen lab rada treatment plant in Madrid.
    • Gate Gourmet, the airline catering services specialist, with more than 120 facilities in 28 countries. It has won several awards and acknowledgements for a series of initiatives concerning waste management and recycling that have been carried out at Madrid-Barajas and London Heathrow.

    According to the ZCW project team, IATA figures from 2014 show that airline passengers generate between 0.82kg and 2.5kg of waste, depending on distance and flight class, with an average of 1.43kg. ICAO says there were 4.3 billion passengers worldwide in 2018, which equates to an annual estimate of just over six billion kgs of waste.

    To date, most airlines recycle very little waste. Part of the problem is the difficulty of separating materials on board and so the mixed waste is usually compacted and incinerated or disposed of in landfill. In addition, catering waste coming from outside the EU is classified as Category 1, high-risk animal by-product and is subject to strict controls.

    Iberia airlines, sustainability

    Waste generated on EU flights is classified as Category 3 waste and is easier to handle. The aim of ZCW is to create an integrated model to reduce, reuse and recycle (including energy recovery) airline catering waste and to establish the basis for other airlines to replicate this approach.

    The focus is on recoverable (light packaging plastics, cans, cartons, glass and paper) and municipal solid waste (MSW, the organic fraction mixed with other inseparable fractions), from both Category 1 and 3 flights.

    The project is running at Madrid-Barajas airport, where Iberia’s caterer Gate Gourmet currently accumulates around 6,000 tonnes of waste per year (4,000 tonnes of this is Category 1, as this is a long haul hub airport).

    There have been two developments with practical applications. One of the objectives is to demonstrate that cabin waste can be separated on-board. To this end, a total of 500 new trolleys with two-compartment bins for waste separation, were delivered to the Gate Gourmet facilities in June.

    These will be used on more than 120 domestic and European daily flights by Iberia and will add more than 300 tonnes of recycled waste annually. One bin is used for packaging waste, paper and cardboard, the other for general waste. When the trolleys arrive at the catering dock, the waste is removed.

    The bags used for both fractions are different colours, which makes it easy to keep the waste separated at all times and that each bag is deposited in the correct compactor. Increased efficiency in this area will reduce the carbon footprint of the process, estimated to be 4,340 tonnes CO2 equivalent per year.

    Another objective is to prove that Category 1 waste can be dealt with without risks to human or animal welfare and that current legislation is overprotective. Experiments carried out earlier this year used an autoclave with a capacity of 10 litres to sterilise crushed organic waste.

    This was then placed into a 100-litre anaerobic digester, where it was converted into biogas. The residue, called digestate, can be used as a soil conditioner. A gain of 5 per cent can be achieved by simply redesigning the menus so there is less waste, to begin with, and the use of lighter, reusable cutlery.

    The system is due to be replicated at London Heathrow and there have been discussions between the ZCW team. Air France and Servair (a Gate Gourmet subsidiary that caters the French airline).

    Visit iberia.com for more information.