It’s challenging enough to reduce plastic consumption here on the ground but in the air it’s practically impossible. I’ve become all too wary of all the plastic that is barely used and simply thrown away on flights. Apparently, I’m not the only one. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is attempting to curb the amount of plastic it tosses after flights by transforming used water bottles into 3D printing filament.
At the end of every flight, KLM says staff will collect left over PET bottles from planes at Amsterdam Airport Schipol and send them to be recycled and reprocessed as filament for 3D printers. The resulting filament will then be used to print tools for repairing and maintaining KLM aircraft. Not only will this circular economy help to reduce plastic waste created during flights, but it will reportedly save KLM’s Engineering & Maintenance department time and money.
KLM Engineering & Maintenance adopted 3D printing technologies some time ago, but it has largely relied on external suppliers for 3D printing materials. Now, with the ability to provide its own source material, it will be able to increase the efficiency and sustainability of its 3D printing usage.
KLM currently uses 3D printing for a range of applications, including the fabrication of special plugs that protect rim holes from paint when Boeing 737s are painted, 3D printed covers which are using during turbine blade maintenance, and a tool for removing overhead baggage bins.
Additive manufacturing is used so much, in fact, that KLM E&M reportedly goes through about 1.5 kg of filament a day at a cost of about 60 euros per kilo. Now, because KLM supplies PET plastic to recycling company Morssinkhof Rymoplast, which in turn provides pellets to Dutch filament maker Reflow, the cost of its filament is reduced to just 17 euros per kilo.
More than just cost, the project is helping KLM take steps towards achieving its sustainability goals. By 2030, the airline plans to reduce its waste by 50% compared to 2011 levels. Last year, the company succeeded in cutting its waste by 9% and recycling 28% of the remaining waste.
“We are continuously investing in sustainable and innovative products and processes,” commented Ton Dortmans, Executive Vice President Engineering & Maintenance. “For our customers, for society and for our own employees. It’s terrific to see how we are able to make useful products from waste materials.