Reuse and recycle: extending the lifecycle of cabin crew uniforms
The concept of recycling clothing is pretty straightforward: when you no longer wish to wear specific garments, you recycle them. However, when it comes to cabin crew uniforms, recycling involves more than just sorting through your wardrobe and taking the discarded clothes to the appropriate place. So, what does the recycling process entail when we talk about cabin crew uniforms?
At Finnair, we have taken the initiative to reuse and recycle our cabin and ground crew uniforms starting in early 2023. All uniform parts in good condition are now recycled for wear for the next user.
"We have established a process to ensure a constant supply of used clothing pieces that have been carefully cleaned and inspected. Primarily, we allocate these items to fulfil our employees' uniform orders. We supplement the orders with new uniform parts when necessary," says Merja Lindberg, responsible for Finnair uniforms.
“One of the biggest operational challenges we faced when implementing the uniform reuse and recycling processes was a large number of different clothing items. With all the different sizes and models, our collection includes a total of about 1,000 different items – skirts and pants, dresses, jackets, and blouses, ranging from sizes 30 to 52 and catering to four different body types," Lindberg explains. To simplify our process, from 2022 certain parts of the uniform, such as a top and a tunic, are no longer available.
Mostly recycled clothes
When we asked our employees for ideas to develop Finnair’s sustainability practices related to flight operations, our cabin crew was very active. "We've been confident from the beginning that the spirit is now right for uniform recycling," says Merja Lindberg.
Our employees have welcomed the used uniform parts that have been cleaned and maintained, as they are more sustainable than new ones. When our cabin or ground crew member places a uniform order, the uniform parts will primarily be recycled products. The order can be picked up from the collection shelf in our crew facilities.
Similarly, our cabin crew brings unnecessary or non-fitting uniform pieces for recycling. When their employment ends, the entire uniform is returned to us.
Personal items such as shirts and leather gloves are not circulated among users. Instead, each individual receives brand-new items that have not been previously worn by anyone else. This practice extends to footwear, where individuals are provided classic leather shoes or black sneakers.
From cabin crew uniforms to a park bench
Recycling uniforms is not an entirely new idea, as the unnecessary parts of the uniform have found new owners among co-workers throughout the years. A clothes rack on a take-it-or-leave-it basis has been used for this purpose. Now the clothes rack has been discarded as unnecessary.
Worn-out uniforms are repurposed through our partner, Image Wear, as raw material for recycled composite products. This process ensures these garments are given a new life, contributing to sustainable manufacturing practices. By combining recycled plastic particles with shredded textiles obtained from worn-out clothes, a composite material is created. This versatile material can be moulded into various outdoor items such as pots, tables, and benches. These products, made from composite material, are specifically designed for outdoor use, offering durability and sustainability. "Composite products are durable - their estimated lifespan is around 50 years, and at the end of their lifecycle, they can still be recycled into new products. In this way, worn-out work clothes do not end up as waste, but continue their life in a new form," says Kati Tukiainen, Image Wear's Responsibility manager.
Circular Economy at the core of our strategy
Adopting sustainable operating models also presents an opportunity for substantial savings. For example, a new high-quality woollen Finnair winter coat is worth hundreds of euros, while cleaning it for a new owner requires a significantly smaller amount of money.
The current Finnair cabin crew uniform, designed by Ritva-Liisa Pohjalainen, features a combination of dark blue and white. Since its introduction in 2011, this uniform has become an integral part of our identity. Not only do these uniforms exude style, but they are also crafted to prioritise the well-being and comfort of our employees. They are designed to stand the test of time and boast exceptional durability and longevity. They incorporate essential safety elements, including fire-retardant materials, to ensure the well-being of our crew members. Additionally, the uniforms have strategically placed pockets that enable easy access to essential items.