In Finland, Huhtamaki has tackled the problem of creating recyclable in-flight food service packaging - an area of food packaging that, because of security reasons and convenience, has remained highly wasteful.
In-flight catering annually uses significant volumes of single-use food service packaging products, which ensure the freshness and hygiene of food and beverage while facilitating service and consumption in close quarters. Lightweight paper, fibre and plastic packaging also saves energy and is safer than reusable glass, china and metal tableware.
The environmental aspects of in-flight catering are subject to constant attention. Through their environmental programmes, many airlines commit themselves to reducing packaging waste. In addition, several airports, especially in Continental Europe, have organised their waste collection to comply with the waste sorting and recycling schemes implemented in the respective countries.
In Finland, Finnair has taken its first steps towards a more far-reaching solution. To this end, its Finnair Catering subsidiary has partnered with Huhtamaki, the Finnish consumer packaging specialist and one of the world's largest manufacturers in its field. Huhtamaki has gained previous experience in organising the collection and recycling of food service packaging, such as in major mass events.
The project addresses the paperboard, moulded fibre and plastic food service packaging supplied by Huhtamaki. The primary objective of the project - apart from a significant reduction in the waste stream to landfills - was to return the fibre content of paper cups and containers to an economical secondary use.
The principle of the recycling project is relatively straight forward. From the in-flight food service waste, two fractions are separated: fibre-based (paper, moulded fibre) and plastic. These will end up as raw material for fibre cores and, respectively, as fuel for thermal energy generation.
"Huhtamaki's interest in this type of projects is derived from producer responsibility," said group environmental manager Karri Koskela from Huhtamaki. "However, recycling packaging waste makes both ecological and economical sense in many cases. The present project leans on the liquid carton collection system presently established in the greater Helsinki area, whereby no significant infrastructure investments were necessary," Koskela pointed out.
At the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, the first trial phase is now in motion, eventually addressing all food service waste from incoming domestic flights.
"It's a promising start", said Kristiina Asplund, director of catering operations and quality at Finnair Catering. "Pre-sorting of catering waste by our cabin personnel is a prerequisite for success. The passengers have been extremely supportive, but it will take some time for them to change old habits, such as tucking used plastic wrappers inside paper cups," Asplund comments.
Finnair Catering aspires to achieve a well-functioning sorting and recycling process for all domestic flights. Huhtamaki, in line with this requirement, aims to expand the project to encompass the entire Helsinki-Vantaa Airport complex, thereby bringing in several new participants.
"This would lead to truly significant material flows from an environmental perspective, while ensuring economies of scale in the waste collection and recycling logistics," Koskela said.