Closed-loop recycling for the aviation industry

The airline industry generates a considerable amount of waste. A large proportion of this comes from in-flight meals for passengers, most of which are packaged in single-use packaging. On average, this amounts to about 1.43 kg of waste per passenger. Because this packaging may have come into contact with exotic animal by-products, the legislation is strict, which makes recycling difficult, and the waste is often incinerated or dumped in landfill.

DeSter, a producer of packaging and materials for the aviation and food industries, wants to change this. With the Recycle2FlyAgain project, we want to develop a circular solution in cooperation with KLM, KCS and the KU Leuven to reduce waste production within the aviation industry.

Concretely, we want to focus on reusable food packaging such as serving trays, oven dishes, cups, bowls, etc. and recycle them into the same products at the end of their life so that the material retains its value as much as possible.


  1. We developed and commercialised a first recycling process for reusable food packaging (i.e. damaged reusable serving trays) within the aviation industry.
  2. In order to obtain a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approval, we prepared an extensive dossier demonstrating that products circulate in a controlled, closed cycle and meet all food contact safety requirements.
  3. During our research project, we developed several tools, systems and products that promote closed-loop recycling, such as reusable cups, collection systems for reusable materials, a residual liquid container, etc.
  4. We would like to extend the lessons learned from this research to other airlines worldwide and to the food service market. For example, we are currently working on reusable packaging.


  1. The realisation of a closed-loop recycling process requires extensive cooperation between all process partners. For example, it is important that new ways of doing business are well received at every level of the organisation.
  2. Volume and logistics play an important role in the commercialisation of a closed-loop recycling process within aviation. Projects that are geographically further away from the production facility have less chance of success with smaller volumes.
  3. Obtaining EFSA approval is a cumbersome and intensive procedure. Little information is available and there is a lack of guidance (from FASFC or EFSA). The file validation took about 2 years, which makes it difficult to switch quickly within the circular economy.
80.000 recycled serving trays
5 new recycling projects


We are experiencing a lot of concrete interest from various corners of the aviation industry, despite the fact that the sector is going through a difficult time. For example, several closed-loop recycling projects are already being introduced at major airlines in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The Recycle2FlyAgain project focuses on recycling within the aviation sector. However, there are several lessons and concepts that we can extend to other sectors. For example, we are actively researching reusable food packaging (hamburger boxes, cutlery, coffee cups, etc.) for a very large fast-food chain, which can also be recycled in a closed cycle. Furthermore, we are looking into the possibilities of closed-loop recycling for applications such as takeaway and delivery meals.