Finnair halved the amount of single-use plastic | Finnair Iceland
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Finnair halved the amount of single-use plastic

In spring 2018, Finnair Kitchen assessed the total amount of single-use plastic generated in flight operations and set an ambitious goal of halving plastic waste by the end of 2022. The goal was reached in August 2022. However, the development doesn’t stop here – the plan is to make operations and recycling even more efficient.

Different means were used to reach the goal of halving single-use plastic waste 

We set an ambitious goal in spring 2018 to half the single-use plastic waste generated from our operations by the end of 2022. Reducing plastic waste has been one of the most important climate goals for Finnair Kitchen. To reach the goal, Finnair Kitchen has systemically worked for four years in a constantly changing environment. The goal was reached ahead of schedule in summer 2022. 

Although the international route network is not the simplest operating environment out there, reducing plastic and increasing the recycling rate of plastic were seen as important goals when assessing the environmental effects of our onboard service. “We found that in these we could improve and reduce our material efficiency,” says Kaisa Jaakkola, responsible for Finnair Kitchen's overall quality, safety and environmental issues. 

In 2018, 466 tons of plastic waste were generated annually, now the number being 150 tons. Compared to the 2018 figures, the tonnage has decreased by more than half, and the amount of plastic waste per passenger halved. Since plastic is also light and a good packaging material for food, we have only reduced plastic when more sustainable alternatives have been available. 

Jaakkola tells that the goal has been pursued in many ways: “Sometimes it’s been possible to simply remove the packaging, while other times the use of plastic products has been reduced or the packaging has been made lighter. Most commonly, plastic products have been replaced by coated cardboard, in which case we have tried to ensure the sustainable origin of cardboard products.” Due to disease risks, international catering waste cannot be recycled as bio-waste, so the biodegradability or compostability of the materials hasn't been a reasonable goal for Finnair. 

While cutting the amount of plastic, also plastic recycling has been enhanced. “We mainly recycle clear and green PET plastic into rPET raw material. The plastic we recycle from the aircraft may even end up back on board, for example, as a raw material for business class slippers. However, as a best-case scenario, the plastic ends up in the same place it came from, for example, from bottle to bottle,” says Jaakkola. 

Great results with seamless and systematic cooperation 

“Our operations still generate more plastic waste than they would in an ideal world. Moreover, implementing many of the improvements requires long cooperation with our suppliers so that we can together design and create responsibly designed products,” Jaakkola says. 

Many changes with different partners are in the works. As an example, the replacement of polystyrene cups with recyclable rPET cups has been delayed due to the challenges of the operating environment in recent years. We are also looking for a better solution for the wooden cutlery from the customer experience and sustainability point of view.   

“Fortunately, Finnair employees are well aware and ready for bigger and smaller sustainability acts in their everyday work. In addition to the plastic targets, we have also systematically succeeded in reducing food waste, and that work continues,” Jaakkola rejoices. 

The plastic recycling goals and the reduction of food waste are part of Finnair's larger strategic goal to include the operating principles of the circular economy in everything we do. We are also committed to the ambitious climate goal of flying carbon-neutral in 2045 and halving our flying emissions from the 2019 level by the end of 2025. 

Small actions have a big impact, and everyone's contribution is important. According to Jaakkola, every Finnair team has participated in the ideation and implementation of Finnair’s sustainability goals. 

You as a customer can also make your travel more sustainable with small actions. For example, reusing disposable cups on board or bringing your own refillable water bottle on the flight are simple ways to reduce plastic waste. And by compensating for your flight, you can reduce your carbon footprint. On this page, we have listed more actions that we can take together towards more responsible travel.

“Sustainability is everyone's responsibility, and for me it means continuous development and critical evaluation of our operations as part of everyday work. Small steps and actions are an integral part of the whole, and simplification, working together and nurturing work that produces value for the customer show a good direction for the development of sustainable air travel as well,” sums up Jaakkola.

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