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Airline Cabin Waste

Airlines are working hard to reduce their environmental footprint and recognize the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling cabin waste from their flight operations. Passengers are increasingly concerned about the impact of single-use plastics on the marine environment, governments are focusing on minimizing food waste and airlines are concerned that the regulatory environment inhibits their ability to respond to these challenges.

In the absence of smarter regulation, cabin waste volumes could double in the next 10-15 years.

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​Cabin waste comprises of two main streams:

  • Cleaning waste
  • Catering (galley) waste

Cleaning waste is leftover rubbish from items given to passengers on the plane such as blankets, amenity kits, headsets and drink bottles. Sometimes, this waste can contain food dropped on the floor or placed in the seatback pockets including food brought on by passengers themselves . Alongside food, cleaning waste is also collected from washroom bins, medical supplies and general medical waste such as used syringes in sharp boxes.

All cabin waste is subject to national waste management controls that limit pollution, however, a number of countries with high agricultural economic status have gone further with their regulations. They have placed restrictions on international flights that often leads to the incineration of all cabin waste, even though airline caterers use the highest standards of hygiene and quality controls, originally designed for NASA astronauts. See a case for smarter regulations for more details related to this.

Both cleaning and catering waste are collected and disposed of by third parties, usually the airline catering company or the cleaning contractor. As a result, volumes and associated disposal charges are often hidden within wider contracts, making it very difficult for airlines to track produced waste. The below diagram summarizes the "vicious triangle" that often inhibits management of cabin waste. 


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