LIFE Project Cover Photo

Tackling international airline catering waste by demonstrating integral and safe recollection, separation & treatment

Reference: LIFE15 ENV/ES/000209 | Acronym: LIFE Zero Cabin Waste



At global level, air passengers generate 0.82 kg to 2.5 kg of waste, depending on distance and flight class, with an average of 1.43 kg (IATA, 2014). According to the Airports Council International (ACI), there were about 6.3 billion plane passengers worldwide in 2013, which equates to an annual estimate of 9 billion kg of waste.

To date, most airlines recycle very little waste, which is typically low quality due to multiple mixed fractions. Therefore, cabin waste (both organic and inorganic) is usually compacted and incinerated or disposed in landfill. When discussing cabin waste, it is necessary to distinguish between two waste categories: Cat. 1 refers to catering waste coming from outside the EU, while Cat. 3 is catering waste generated on EU flights. Cat. 1 is subject to much stricter regulations, as it is considered as animal by-product: a high-risk waste fraction. Its management in the EU is restricted to landfilling according to Regulation EC 1069/2009.

Airlines have increased their efforts in recent years to tackle the issue of cabin waste, but these efforts are usually fragmented and lack a comprehensive approach. Currently, landfilling is the most common practice in Spain. In cases where no distinction is made between international or EU flights, all the waste is treated in the same way. Therefore, much remains to be done, especially regarding Cat. 1 waste.


LIFE Zero Cabin Waste aims to create an integrated model to reduce, reuse and recycle (including energy recovery) waste collected on airplanes, and to establish the basis for other airlines to replicate this approach. The project will focus on recoverable (light packaging plastics, cans, cartons, glass and paper) and municipal solid waste (MSW, the organic fraction mixed with other inseparable fractions), from both Cat. 1 (international flights) and Cat. 3 (EU flights).

The project will be implemented at Madrid’s Barajas airport, where IBERIA’s caterer GATE GOURMET currently accumulates around 6 000 tonnes of waste per year (4 000 of this Cat. 1). In particular, the project will training crew and staff, implement equipment adjustments, execute a collection and separation protocol, process waste fractions, and implement a pilot treatment for Cat. 1 waste. Transferability will be boosted by replicating the project’s model at Heathrow airport during the final year.

The project has four main objectives: 1. Demonstrate that with good management practices, stakeholders’ engagement and coordination, a great deal of cabin waste can be separated on-board; 2. Prove that Cat. 1 waste can be dealt with without risks for human or animal health. The project aims to show that current legislation is overprotective and wasteful, and it aims to be a driver for policy change; 3. Contribute to the reduction of the high carbon footprint associated with the generation and inadequate management of cabin waste. The project’s environmental impact will be monitored through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); and 4. Set the basis for replication through standard protocols (notably, the project’s main strength and innovation, which resides in its integrated approach).

The project is in line with the upgrading of waste stream management laid out in the Waste Framework Directive and promotes the ‘turn waste into a resource’ objectives of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe and the Circular Economy Package. In addition, the project will demonstrate valorisation possibilities for Cat. 1 waste and contribute to the updating of the relevant Regulation.

Expected results: For each of the four main objectives, the following results are expected:

Tackling cabin waste:

  • Waste reduction of 5% by minimisation measures, such as the redesign of menus and the use of lighter, re-usable cutlery;
  • Recovery, after this reduction, of 80% of the total cabin waste diverted from landfill (50% recoverable, 30% MSW), or approximately 4 560 tonnes per year, through the implementation of the project actions; and
  • Lowered costs of disposal (avoiding landfill) and increased waste purity due to separation and recycling (including energy recovery), which will create new jobs and business opportunities in the recycling sector.
  • Cat. 1 waste:

  • Treatment of a fraction of Cat. 1 waste with different methods to prove it is innocuous for human and animal health;
  • Scale the treatment of Cat. 1 waste to industrial levels and measure its impact (LCA); and
  • Develop, in collaboration with relevant national and EU authorities, integrated best practice guidelines on catering waste management that include the valorisation of this type of waste.
  • Carbon footprint:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, estimated at 4 340 t CO2 eq. per year.
  • Replication:

  • Consortium members will initiate the first replication of the model in the UK (where currently all cabin waste is incinerated); and
  • 10 million passengers per year and a total of 1 000 stakeholders reached through dissemination activities.


    Reference: LIFE15 ENV/ES/000209
    Acronym: LIFE Zero Cabin Waste
    Start Date: 01/09/2016
    End Date: 31/12/2019
    Total Budget: 2,509,070 €
    EU Contribution: 1,438,247 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: IBERIA, LNEAS AREAS DE ESPAA, SOCIEDAD ANNIMA OPERADORA, Sociedad Unipersonal
    Legal Status: PCO
    Address: Calle Martnez Villergas, 49, 28027, Madrid, España
    Contact Person: Marina GARCÍA AEDO
    Tel: 34915874793

    LIFE Project Map



    • Bio-waste (including food waste)
    • Packaging and plastic waste
    • Waste recycling


    • waste recycling
    • plastic waste
    • waste collection
    • organic waste


    • Directive 2008/98 - Waste and repealing certain Directives (Waste Framework Directive) (19.11.2008)


    Name Type
    Biogas Fuel Cell S.A, Spain Participant
    CESPA G.R, Spain Participant
    ECOEMBALAJES ESPAÑA S.A., Spain Participant
    Gate Gourmet Spain S.L., Spain Participant