The Qantas Group announces its ambitious plan 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.

Announcing the plan as part of the national carrier’s half-year results, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said that business had a responsibility to lead on environmental issues.

“In the process of carrying 50 million people each year, we deal with more than 30,000 tonnes of waste. That’s the same weight as about eighty 747 jumbos.

“We’ve already removed plastic wrapping on our pyjamas and headsets, as well as plastic straws. Even plastic Frequent Flyer cards are going digital. It adds up to millions of items a year because of our scale and there’s a lot more we can do.”

Airlines are legally required to dispose of some materials permanently, such as quarantined food from international flights and hazardous materials. With support from industry and regulators, the Group believes it can ultimately reduce the volume of this regulated waste as well.

Similarly, there are some single-use plastics used by airlines that don’t currently have a practical alternative. Qantas and Jetstar are working with manufacturers and other airlines to innovate in this space to further reduce waste to landfill.

Some examples of changes to be implemented across Qantas, QantasLink and Jetstar from later this year include:

  • Introducing coffee cups that can be recycled or composted.
  • Effectively eliminating single-use plastics by switching to alternative packaging.
  • Removing unnecessary paper, such as boarding passes and operational manuals, by going digital.
  • Increasing donation or composting of food.
  • Recycling of old uniforms.

The Group will replace 45 million plastic cups, 30 million cutlery sets, 21 million coffee cups and 4 million headrest covers with sustainable alternatives by end-2020, targeting the removal of 100 million single-use plastic items per annum. This list of items goes well beyond the recent European Union ban, both in scope and speed of implementation.

The Group has an existing target to reduce waste to landfill by 30 per cent by 2020. The 75 per cent goal now takes its place. Separate targets exist for fuel, water and electricity consumption, and Qantas has the largest carbon offset scheme of any airline in the world.