KLM PET bottles

‘PET’ bottles – a common bugbear? KLM pursues printing and pressure

Esther Nestle
12.10.2020
4 minutes

Royal Dutch Airlines is applying its ‘printing and pressure’ strategy: after an interim external recycling stop, empty PET bottles end up in 3D printers within KLM. This re-use is both creative and pertinent, enabling the Dutch to exert pressure on their competitors to act. If KLM is able to do this, then why cannot the others follow suit?

The route from KLM PET bottles to 3D printing can be explained quickly

This cyclical process with its own supply of raw material means that KLM is able to reap a reduction in costs of almost three quarters. Instead of the previous 60 euros, KLM now only needs to stump up 17 euros per kilogram of filament.

The pressure to act on PET bottle recycling is generally high

PET bottles place a burden on the worldwide ecosystem for 400 years; at the end of this time, they will have decomposed into countless tiny microplastic particles – afterwards, they will impact the environment in a different, more subtle manner. Therefore, recycling is absolutely essential here. A proportion of the old PET bottles are ‘rejuvenated’ into bottles again. However, the vast proportion are re-purposed and re-functioned into textile fibres, foils, straps, imitation leather, sewing threads, bottles for cleaning agents – and now 3D print material too.

Unfortunately, even such environmentally-friendly recycling processes consume mineral oil. Nonetheless, the experts concur that recycled PET bottles are by all means a better solution than no solution at all. This is the only way to prevent the bottles from just being left for the environment to deal with in an unmanaged fashion.

KLM Fly Responsibly

KLM PET bottles – greenwashing or serious environmental commitment?

Recycling PET bottles within the company represents a further piece in the KLM environmental dossier puzzle. 15 months ago, the Dutch airline launched its new ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign. Under this banner, the carrier has been collating its commitment to more environmentally friendly aviation and has been positioning itself prominently at the vanguard of reducing emissions and promoting climate protection.

Flying-V - long-haul aircraft guitar shaped

Point of no return

Is KLM taking its commitment to the environment seriously? Critics point to the fact that the chronically under-taxed aviation sector is a bone of contention for many – including the Dutch government, who have long since been searching for new methods of taxation. It is against this background that ‘Fly Responsibly’ could also be viewed as ‘getting one’s defence in first’.

On the other hand, KLM has very much set out its stool for the long term. When an airline such as KLM makes such significant public statements in terms of aviation being partially responsible for the global environmental problem, then there is no turning back.

KLM in 1st place in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index

The jury behind the Dow Jones Sustainability Index seem to have reached the same conclusion. In 2019, they pulled KLM right onto the top step of the podium, crowning it the most sustainable airline of the year. The index singles out the companies with the best sustainability projects in each industry. The message has even been received in the boardrooms on the stock exchange; whereas many investors previously viewed issues of sustainability to be a flash in the pan, they have now turned into important long-term decision-making factors.

A small innovation to finish: Alaska Airlines

Recycling is good, avoidance is better. Why take PET bottles on board in the first place? In this vein, Alaska Airlines is appealing to its passengers to take their own reusable bottles into the cabin. After passing security, passengers are able to fill up their own bottles with drinking water. The ingenious airline is thus killing three birds with one stone: it is cutting down on plastic waste, saving money on rubbish collection, and has to purchase less water.

Competition is invigorating business. What is more, this competition in the field of sustainability is (re-)invigorating the environment and climate alike.

by Esther Nestle

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