Emirates says it managed to divert more than 500,000 kilograms of plastic and glass used onboard its aircraft from landfill last year – almost the equivalent in weight of a fully loaded Airbus A380 superjumbo.
Most waste produced on international flights is commonly subjected to strict health controls, and the bulk is still either sent to landfill or to be incinerated. Certain items, however, can be recycled – although, until recently, airlines have had limited recycling success.
Emirates says it is determined to improve its onboard waste management processes, and at its core is the airline’s hard-working cabin crew, who have to quickly separate glass and plastic bottles as they collect meal trays and waste during a flight.
Recyclable materials are separated into dedicated storage units and then sent to a recycling plant in Dubai. Health controls still prevent recyclable material from being sent to any other facility apart from an airline’s home hub – an issue that affects every airline.
Glass bottles are separated by colour and crushed into reusable ‘cullets’ which can then be remelted and turned into brand-new bottles.
Meanwhile, plastic bottles are chopped into plastic flakes and sent to manufacturers to make brand new plastic bottles – including, in some cases, Emirates’ economy-class inflight blankets. Each one is made out of 28 recycled bottles.
Surprisingly, despite the sheer amount of plastic and glass recycled onboard last year, Emirates only started to separate recyclable material in 2019 after a member of cabin crew suggested the initiative during a regular feedback session. The idea was implemented within weeks.
Unlike some airlines, Emirates did not say whether it also recycles metal drinks cans.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.