Recycling aircraft interiors is achievable

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A fledgling UK-based company believes it has the answer to a problem that has been puzzling aircraft manufacturers for some time: how to recycle cabin interiors materials and prevent them from being sent to landfill.

SD Aviation, which launched just a month ago, specializes in recycling aircraft interiors and aims to be able to recycle 100% of cabin materials within two years. At the moment the vast majority of the materials that make up aircraft cabin interiors are sent to landfill, either because they are too difficult to recycle or the market value for the recycled products is too low.

But SD Aviation business development director Tony Seville tells Runway Girl Network that he has spent the last 18 months researching whether recycling aircraft interiors is a viable business option and whether “anyone would be interested”, and the answer appears to be yes on both counts.

“[The research] was pretty hard going but I found that you can recycle lots of it,” says Seville, adding that SD Aviation is “starting to get noticed”. It has just signed up its first customer, Leki Aviation – which specializes in supplying and distributing aircraft parts, interiors and components – and is in talks with two UK-based carriers with a view to signing up its first airline.

SD Aviation will recycle 300-500 aircraft seats which are taking up space in Leki’s storage centre. “We will strip them down, separate the metals, plastics, seat covers and foams and then we’ll go through the process of how to recycle them,” says Seville.

SD Aviation plans to open its own recycling facility in Buckinghamshire in April, which Seville says will make the company a “one-stop shop for aircraft interiors recycling”. While the company can carry out shredding and grinding activities now, until its new facility opens it needs to ship materials to other recycling facilities for compounding.

The procedures for recycling interiors vary depending on the material in question. Thermoplastics, for instance, can be used “time and time again”, says Seville. They just need to be shredded into lumps, ground down to 6mm pieces and then compounded to become pellets, which can either be used for injection moulding or returned to sheet form.

SD Aviation pays a third party to collect seat foams and covers and they are turned into “alternatives to fossil fuels” and ultimately used by cement factories, says Seville. “Nothing we do here goes to landfill, whereas before everything from the interiors went to landfill.” Seville’s original idea for recycling seats was to “do them up” so they could be used in, for example, reception areas or restaurants, but he discovered that “there’s a fair cost to doing that so it’s better just to recycle them”.

The more challenging materials to recycle include carbonfibre, which Boeing has been working on for some time in conjunction with UK-based Recycled Carbon Fibre, and Nomex, one of the branded products used to protect against the spread of flames. But Seville is optimistic that a solution is close for Nomex, which he describes as “the main problem” when it comes to interiors recycling.

SD Aviation is working with a company based in Denmark and a Swedish university to come up with a solution which “may bring [Nomex] back into the aviation industry in a different form”, says Seville. “It’s possible we can recycle it – I can’t say a great deal about it yet but we’re studying Nomex panels.” The company is also studying possible second lives for disused life jackets, and is able to recycle inflight entertainment systems back into their core components, which are then further recycled back into raw materials.

At the moment, including seats and textiles, Seville says that 35-40% of the aircraft interior can be recycled. “Our goal is to recycle 100% of the interior…but this may take up to two years.”

SD Aviation hopes to sign an airline customer “as soon as possible” and is in talks with two UK carriers. Aside from highlighting the green benefits of sending disused interiors to be recycled, Seville is offering potential airline customers a revenue-sharing opportunity which could see them gaining something in return. “If you’re an airline and you’ve got five to 10 ship sets of seats to recycle then there will be a revenue-sharing opportunity,” he says.

1 Comment

  1. Newsha Doroudgarian

    I am a PhD student at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden. I am looking for the copyright owner of the image regarding the green airplane, in the article on “Recycling aircraft interiors is achievable”. I would really appreciate if I could get the permission to use this image on the cover of my doctoral thesis.