Lufthansa Cargo alone uses around 500 tons of plastic film each year in its many warehouses across the globe. It is just one airline of many, so you can imagine the millions of tons of single-use plastic that end up in the planet’s landfill sites. In fact, 2019 data calculates the annual weight of single-use plastic in the air cargo industry to be the equivalent of sixty-four 747-8 freighters parked up next to each other. A problem that requires a fast solution. Lufthansa Cargo claims to be the first airline to tackle the issue.
“Plastic waste has become a major problem for the environment worldwide. We are therefore particularly concerned to reduce our need for plastic and to use it in a way that conserves
resources. In our sustainability strategy, we follow the guiding principle 'Every Action Counts'. Every step we can take to make airfreight logistics more sustainable is important to us - in the
air as well as on the ground,” Dorothea von Boxberg, Chief Executive Officer of Lufthansa Cargo AG, explains. “We are particularly pleased to be the first cargo airline to be able to use
a more environmentally friendly film in the transport of our freight after many tests at selected stations and good cooperation with our specialist departments, our waste disposal company and our
film producer. This brings us a step closer to our goal of using our plastic film in a circular way.”
Pledges and plans
Around 2018, large airlines such as Air France, Delta, RyanAir, Qantas, and Air Alaska, to name but a few, began announcing measures to reduce single-use plastic on their flights. These were mainly concerned with passenger operations, with Qantas firmly setting out to become the world's first airline to reuse, recycle and compost at least three-quarters of its general waste by the end of 2021. It had already begun recycling shrink-wrap in its warehouses from around 2010, onwards.
As far as cargo carriers are concerned: in 2020, Cargolux, for example, signed IMS Luxembourg’s Zero Single-Use plastic pledge, aiming to eliminate single-use plastic within the company by the end of that year. It has consistently reported on its progress in the annual 130+-page CSR report published on its website.
2020 was also the year that the organization “Global Ecotourism Network”, lobbied for more action in the reduction of plastic within aviation. “We appreciate IATA´s measures addressing the global challenge of climate crisis. And we are convinced that you can easily do more, by introducing this requirement into the IATA Environmental Policies: Ban single-use plastics (SUP) by 2023,” the petition reads. “Carrying 82% of the world’s air traffic, the world’s leading passenger and cargo airlines have the power to make this change happen and they have the clients who care,” it concludes.
Just a couple of months ago, LATAM Cargo reiterated its pledge to remove single-use plastics, pointing to several cargo pilot projects looking at reducing plastic use by more than 60%, with one of its key focus points being finding alternatives to the plastic used to wrap pallets - reusable blankets or waterproof covers, for example.
A clear strategy
Lufthansa Cargo is not the first to look at the single use plastic problem, but it is tackling it from a different angle, and has outlined a clear plan of action. What it is looking to do, is to reduce the weight of the plastic wrapping – less weight means less fuel usage in flight, which translates into less emissions. How does it aim to do this? By using plastic that not only contains 10% recycled plastic but is also one micrometer (one µ) thinner than previous films. Starting this month, it is premiering a new plastic film that can save around two kilograms on each cargo flight. Together with the German local waste disposal company and film manufacturer, Verpa Folie Weidhausen GmbH, the airline will collect the annual circa 400 tons of used film in Frankfurt, and Verpa will process it into granulate, and incorporate it into new film as a recycling component, thus creating a circular economy.
Just the beginning
“The development of a sustainable plastic film is a long-term task on which we have worked intensively with Lufthansa Cargo. Together, we have developed requirements for the new film, tested it in operation, and can now introduce it as a standard product worldwide at Lufthansa Cargo,” Peter Griebel, Managing Director of Verpa Folie Weidhausen GmbH, discloses. “Now we have set ourselves the goal of successively increasing the recycled content of our plastic film to 30% by 2025.”
In addition to lighter film, Lufthansa Cargo also established the multiple use of plastic film as a standard handling process in MAR22, thus reducing the airline’s overall consumption. The rest is recycled, once it is discarded.
Better and biodegradable
Lufthansa Cargo is not only focusing on partly recycled films but is also looking for biodegradability to ensure that any plastic ending up in a landfill, will biodegrade in eight to ten years “thanks to special enzymes that stimulate the decomposition activities of bacteria many times over - without creating micro plastics,” as opposed to requiring 500-1000 years. “In the long term, Lufthansa Cargo wants to find local film manufacturers worldwide who can produce the plastic film according to its strict sustainability criteria and make it available locally - ideally in the future made from sustainable biogenic raw materials,” the release says. It would do well to talk with WFS, for example, which adopted M&G Packaging’s BioNatur™ plastic back in 2019. CFG reported.
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