KLM makes plastic fantastic

By working with the recycling company Morssinkhof Rymoplast and the filament manufacturer Reflow, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has become the first airline in the world to recycle PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles to make tools for repairing and maintaining its aircraft.

Empty bottles are collected at the end of every flight and transformed into filament, the material used in 3D printers. KLM used to buy this material from external suppliers, but now empty PET bottles from its flights are delivered to a recycling company in exchange for high-quality plastic pellets, which are the main material in filament. The tonnes of plastic bottles that are taken off aircraft at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol every year are recycled into this filament.

KLM Engineering & Maintenance has been using 3D printers for quite some time in ways that speed up repair and maintenance processes. For example, the tool Engine Services designed for removing overhead baggage bins on board the Boeing 787 means this task can now be carried out by one mechanic instead of two.

E&M currently uses around 1.5 kg of high quality filament every day. Because KLM now supplies PET bottles as a raw material, the cost of this filament has dropped from EUR 60/kg to just EUR 17/kg.

KLM aims to reduce the volume of its waste by 50% in 2030, compared to 2011 levels. This will be achieved by producing less waste overall and increasing the amount that can be recycled. In 2018, KLM reduced waste by 9% and 28% of what remained was recycled.

“We are continuously investing in sustainable and innovative products and processes. 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,” commented Ton Dortmans, executive vice president Engineering & Maintenance.

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