A food box brimming with snacks, each individually wrapped in plastic.

IATA partners with Aviation Sustainability Forum to tackle cabin waste


Green Wing logo with white letters against a green backdrop, and leafs on either sideA massive increase in the production and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is considered imperative if aviation is going to slash its CO2 emissions and meet Net Zero targets by 2050. Indeed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes SAF will contribute roughly 65% of this goal. But whilst industry’s focus on SAF is important, it can’t afford to ignore other sustainability initiatives, including dramatically reducing cabin waste.

That’s why IATA is collaborating with the Aviation Sustainability Forum (ASF) to launch a standardized Cabin Waste Composition Audit (CWCA). Established in October 2019, ASF is a non-profit collaborative partnership of competing aviation stakeholders who are working to build a more sustainable future for onboard service. To facilitate the new audits, a so-called ASF Cabin Waste Composition Auditing Platform will be launched in September 2024. Audit data will then be used to guide the airline industry and policy makers in their efforts to reduce cabin waste and improve circularity through re-use and recycling.

“Managing and reducing waste is an important component of aviation’s overall sustainability. Obtaining standardized and comparable data regarding the composition and quantity of waste from flights will help the industry to reduce the waste it generates,” said IATA senior vice president sustainability and chief economist Marie Owens Thomsen in a statement.

“Better data will also help policymakers to harmonize regulations, which in turn can help optimize the industry’s capability to sort, re-cycle and safely re-use waste that cannot be avoided. Working with ASF in developing this audit program is a significant step forward in improving the circularity of the sector.”


According to IATA, ASF has already conducted CWCA trial audits based on a methodology developed by the association. The IATA tool “captures audit waste data across all waste sources — cabin waste, galley bin waste, galley carts from each cabin, dry stores, and bonded carts — and auto generates an audit report to a standard report format with the associated database capable of additional analysis”, ASF explained on LinkedIn.

The audits were trialed in two waves, said IATA, covering 25 flights (short, medium, and long-haul) at Singapore’s Changi Airport in November 2023 and April 2024. “Preliminary results indicate that the sector is generating over 3.6 million metric tonnes of cabin and catering waste annually, with 65% being food and beverage waste. Untouched meals account for 18% of all waste.”

Matt Crane is the founder of the Aviation Sustainability Forum and a strategic projects lead at SATS, Asia’s largest aviation caterer. In an interview with the World travel Catering & Onboard Services’ news hub, published in April, Crane suggested that progress on cabin waste reduction — everything left behind by passengers from food and beverage (F&B) to galley waste, amenities and toilet bin waste — “is falling behind” as aviation’s focuses on its biggest challenge, its reliance on the use of fossil fuels and the development of alternative and more sustainable aviation fuels.

“The ASF’s vision is for a new supply chain model for the manufacture, supply and disposal of the products and services that are served to passengers in all cabins on-board commercial aircraft. A supply chain where waste reduction and circularity are optimised and associated key KPIs are aligned across the supply chain for all stakeholders involved,” he said.

Executing on this vision requires a standardized methodology. “Previous IATA research identified the lack of a standardized methodology with respect to conducting cabin waste audits and, as a result, harmonized data is not available to underpin decision-making by policymakers, airlines, and caterers regarding waste-related issues,” said IATA. “A standardized audit will help solve these issues and enable the sector to demonstrate progress towards waste reduction and improved circularity.”

Crane added: “Effectively managing cabin waste is a challenge that can be solved with the backing of data. It is the responsibility of the sector and its regulators to come together, understand the problem and align on the needed solutions.”

IATA will discuss new challenges and opportunities for improving environmental performance in the aircraft cabin and cargo hold during its World Sustainability Symposium on 24-25 September in Miami, Florida.

Meanwhile, important parallel work is happening elsewhere in industry, with a focus on how technology can be used to improve sustainability. As reported by RGN, Diehl and Thales — together with Airbus, Adient Aerospace, Boeing, Jeppesen, Safran and other stakeholders — are participating in a so-called i+s Cabin research project that ultimately aims to revolutionize the way cabin data is collected, analyzed, and used. To that end, the group has already developed a unified communication standard for cabin components.

The latest iteration of its work, i+s Cabin 2.0, “is unique, encompassing every aspect of the cabin: cabin management, equipment, seat electronics, lighting, smart galley solutions, and more. It engages partners from across the aviation industry and combines expertise and know-how unmatched by any other cabin research project.”

Starting in November 2025, the results of this work will be provided on an evaluation platform funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

Related Articles:

Featured image credited to Mary Kirby