Waste management


Sustainable and efficient waste management is a key aspect of the Lufthansa Group’s environmental strategy, aimed at minimising the environmental impacts of its business activities and improving the raw materials efficiency. This includes Group companies from every business segment.

Conceptual framework defined for all Passenger Airlines to systematically reduce waste on board and promote the circular economy

Varying global waste policies, increasing customer demand for more environmentally friendly products and the limited amount of on-board space in the Passenger Airlines mean that there is a considerable need for action in relation to on-board waste, particularly in terms of sustainable waste management. For these reasons, the passenger airlines of the Lufthansa Group have jointly defined a general framework for dealing responsibly with in-flight waste, covering all categories on in-flight waste.

In-flight waste is divided into three categories: single-use waste, food waste and reusable waste. Single-use waste refers to materials that become waste after being used once in-flight or after a flight event, without any defined recycling processes. Food waste may arise both during and after the flight event. Reusable waste includes materials that are already treated as part of a circular system, but later become waste without any downstream recycling processes.

The concept for comprehensive waste reduction is based on the waste hierarchy of EU Directive 2008/98/EC. The “R strategies” of a circular economy form the foundation of the increasingly circular management of in-flight waste, based on the aspects defined in the EU waste hierarchy. The guidelines for the systematic reduction of in-flight waste are therefore as follows, in order of priority: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Recover – Replace. In 2023, this concept was established in order to achieve the waste goals of the Lufthansa Group Passenger Airlines.

However, applicable national and international regulations for the treatment of in-flight waste restrict the implementation of this concept. The Lufthansa Group is therefore also campaigning to reconcile sustainable development with the political framework for waste management. Various actors along the value chain, such as manufacturers, catering partners, cabin crew, the Lufthansa Group’s operational waste management and waste disposal companies, are also involved with a view to ensuring efficient reduction of in-flight waste. In addition, Lufthansa Group Product Management for the passenger airlines is represented on various international committees, such as the Sustainable Cabin and Smarter Handling of International Catering Waste working groups of the airline association IATA. By regularly attending meetings, they share their experiences, challenges and knowledge and launch concrete joint projects, including transatlantic recycling tests or lobbying for better conditions. The common goal is to ensure that on-board resources are used sustainably.

Lufthansa Cargo and Lufthansa Technik focus on resources conservation and the circular economy

Waste avoidance, waste reduction and conservation of resources are key components of Lufthansa Cargo’s waste concept. At Lufthansa Cargo, loading means and loading aids are necessary for airfreight transport. These are mainly reusable items which will only become waste once they are no longer repairable or when they reach their date of expiry according to international airfreight regulations for certified loading means. Some loading equipment is disposable by nature, or as determined by international regulations. The Lufthansa Group works closely with actors within the value chain, such as manufacturers, suppliers, handling partners, associations and disposal services, to optimise reuse on the one hand and the circular economy on the other. For example, thanks to cooperation with the manufacturer, the plastic film used to protect cargo consists of 10% recycled material, and selected loading aids and equipment are upcycled.

Within the scope of its activities as a maintenance, repair and overhaul service provider for the aviation industry, Lufthansa Technik keeps scarce and valuable resources within the economic cycle by maintaining and repairing items and extending their service life, thus making a valuable contribution to the circular economy in the aviation industry. Waste from maintenance processes is collected according to type as far as possible and subsequently consigned to officially approved disposal channels. For example, engine scrap following its supervised destruction, which precludes any further use, the recycling company once again separates the engine scrap into different valuable alloys.

Organisational foundations and responsibilities

The Corporate Responsibility department is responsible for integrating waste management into the Lufthansa Group’s environmental strategy.

The Lufthansa Group Corporate Responsibility and Product Management departments driving jointly the management and coordination, conceptual work, target setting and monitoring of in-flight waste at Group level. To ensure Group-wide integration, a working group has been established, made up of Passenger Airlines representatives, which regularly discusses the progress made and challenges faced and draws up joint standards.

Individual concepts and measures for achieving the targets are planned and their effectiveness evaluated by the Product Management function of the Lufthansa Group and the individual Passenger Airlines. The implementation of the measures is performed decentrally and independently by the passenger airlines.

The Lufthansa Group’s real estate management is responsible for the disposal concept and for assuming Lufthansa Cargo’s waste producer obligations at its hubs. Lufthansa Cargo’s infrastructure management is responsible for the waste separation and collection concept at its hubs. In addition, within the scope of the environmental management system established at Lufthansa Cargo, environmental coordinators in the areas of global handling, procurement and disposal management work closely with the subsidiary Jettainer’s loading aid management and the Lufthansa Group’s real estate management to ensure sustainable development from the start of the value chain, i.e. the manufacture and use of loading aids and equipment, up to their final disposal.

At Lufthansa Technik, the Executive Board is responsible for waste management. It approves targets for waste reduction and for promoting the circular economy. The environmental management department coordinates and monitors the level of target achievement. The integrated management system sets out binding processes which are intended to ensure compliance with applicable regulations for Lufthansa Technik.

Passenger Airlines focus on the reduction of single-use and food waste on board

The Lufthansa Group Passenger Airlines are committed to fostering the sustainable use of in-flight resources. Concrete targets for 2025 in the categories of single-use waste and food waste were prioritised to reflect the urgency of the acute environmental impacts, the political framework conditions and customer expectations.

Single-use waste

For the passenger airlines, it is very important for finite resources to remain within a closed loop for as long as possible, in order to reduce their consumption. The passenger airlines have therefore the ambition that, from 2025 onwards, it will return all in-flight plastic and aluminium items to the circular economy and will thus no longer have any single-use plastic and aluminium items available to customers on board.

Food waste

By 2025, the passenger airlines intend to reduce the volume of food waste - calculated by weight- on short-haul flights by 50% compared with 2019.

Food waste is also to be minimised on long-haul flights. Since the data for this is not yet of adequate quality, the passenger airlines are working with their catering partners to sufficiently improve the level of data transparency regarding food waste on board. The aim is to likewise formulate targets for long-haul flights from 2025 onwards based on the level of data transparency achieved.

Reusable waste

Since the main focus of the targets is to reduce single-use and food waste, the Lufthansa Group’s Passenger Airlines intend to define a target for reusable waste from 2025.

Lufthansa Cargo and Lufthansa Technik intend to increase their recycling rate

Currently, 99% of Lufthansa Cargo’s waste at the hubs (only day-to-day operations, not including waste from building and modernisation work) is used to generate energy or is recycled. Lufthansa Cargo has set two specific targets for the period up to 2025 with the aim of increasing its recycling rate in this area. At the Frankfurt hub, the intention is to increase the share of waste that is recycled to 40% by 2025. In addition, Lufthansa Cargo is aiming to increase its worldwide recycling rate for plastic film to 100% by 2025.

Lufthansa Technik has been pursuing defined environmental targets since back in 2018. One of its key environmental goals is to increase its recycling rate to 75% by 2025.

Passenger airlines reduce in-flight waste in all categories

In the reporting year, measures to reduce the volume of in-flight waste were initiated and implemented in all three waste categories. Due to differing product and route concepts, the airlines implement these measures individually.

Single-use waste

In the reporting year, the Lufthansa Group’s Passenger Airlines began to develop a structured action plan for all plastic and aluminium disposable items. The aim of this is to define individual measures at the level of specific airlines and items, with clear targets for implementation, so as to enable general planning, measurement and management of the Group-wide target achievement status. Synergies are leveraged in the development and implementation of measures, since the airlines use similar disposable plastic and aluminium items despite their different service and loading concepts. The goal is to draw on the results across the Group and implement them to optimal effect.

The measures implemented in 2023 include replacing disposable plastic items with reusable ones. In the reporting year, for example, Lufthansa Airlines introduced a reusable cup on short-haul flights in Economy Class. This had been successfully tested the year before and replaced the disposable plastic cup previously used. Brussels Airlines has also replaced its disposable plastic items with reusable cutlery and plates in Business Class on short-haul routes.

In addition to the “Closed Loop” project launched in 2022 at Lufthansa Airlines and Discover Airlines, where PET bottles are reused in a closed recycling loop, the Lufthansa Group began to consider expanding this concept in 2023 to include suitable cups and lids for food dishes. Implementation is scheduled for 2024, subject to a successful outcome.

In terms of substituting disposable plastic packaging with materials from renewable resources, various airlines replaced packaging materials in specific classes in the reporting year. This included packaging for disposable cutlery, meal lids and even earplugs.

One challenge in reducing the number of disposable items on board is the changing selection of meals, which means that the Passenger Airlines are reliant on the product providers coming up with sustainable solutions. For this reason, the Lufthansa Group’s Passenger Airlines entered into a dialogue with their suppliers in the reporting year, with the goal of encouraging them to widen their selection of more sustainable options.

Food waste

In 2023 (as in the previous year), a Group-wide survey of food waste was implemented, subject to a joint minimum standard, to establish standardised and systematic monitoring of food waste for all passenger airlines and determine appropriate steering and change measures in line with the resulting findings. In the reporting year, the test runs which had already begun in 2022 on Lufthansa Airlines flights continued, using artificial intelligence. This involves using weighing scales, cameras and an algorithm to record and analyse food left over on trays. This technology is being tested for using this in routine processes in the future. The results are also intended to show whether more precise and continuous measurement of food waste can enable the data-driven management of the loading process.

Food waste volumes at the Passenger Airlines that offer food for purchase on European flights are managed and planned on the basis of sales figures with the help of an algorithm. In 2023, the proportion of discarded perishable products from these Passenger Airlines was reduced by 53% on average compared with the 2019 baseline year. This figure does not include the proportion of discarded perishable products from Brussels Airlines, since no measurements were carried out in the reporting year. The plan is to record Brussels Airlines’ share of such products too in 2024.

In addition, Lufthansa Airlines adopted two concepts in the reporting year which had already been introduced at SWISS and Austrian Airlines. Besides the “to go” scheme, where fresh products left over on the final flights of the day are offered to passengers for sale at reduced prices, all three airlines now offer customers the opportunity to make advance orders on short-haul flights in Economy Class and pre-select products in Business and First Class on long-haul flights. The goal is to avoid food waste even before the flight event. For example, food waste at SWISS was reduced by 2,957 kilogrammes in the reporting year thanks to the “to go” scheme.

Reusable waste

With the measures it has implemented, the Lufthansa Group aims to help reduce waste and to minimise environmental impacts by extending the lifespan of reusable items and using circular recycling ways.

In September 2022, SWISS conducted a test run with a partner for textile recycling. The goal was to introduce a routine recycling and alternative reuse process for textiles no longer needed in aircraft. Following the successful validation of the test results, SWISS included the reuse of blankets in its routine procedures in the reporting year. In 2023, 766 kilogrammes of passenger blankets were recycled as insulation material or cleaning cloths. As well as these passenger blankets, further textiles were used in the reporting year for a textile recycling process which produces cotton thread. As a result, an additional 925 kilogrammes underwent linear recycling. Moreover, together with its cleaning partner, SWISS introduced the recycling and replenishment of amenity kits in every travel class in the reporting year.

Range of information on sustainability issues for employees to be expanded

To encourage sustainable developments on board, Lufthansa Airlines, SWISS and Austrian Airlines have ambassador programmes relating to sustainability in the cabin. Within the scope of these schemes, certain cabin crew members act as ambassadors, raising their colleagues’ awareness of this topic, identifying potential and bringing it to the attention of those responsible. SWISS and Lufthansa Airlines have established special staff rooms to provide employees with further information on current sustainability topics in the Company. In the reporting year, SWISS transformed dedicated briefing rooms into “Fly Greener briefing rooms”, while Lufthansa Airlines set up “Green Corners”.

Lufthansa Cargo organises waste separation with its service providers

Since 2022, Lufthansa Cargo has been using a plastic film consisting of 10% recycling material to protect cargo and is working on a closed loop solution for this. Tests have shown that, when waste is returned to the manufacturer, the proportion of foreign materials included is too high for direct recycling to be possible. With this in mind, Lufthansa Cargo worked with its service providers during the reporting year to revise the waste sorting procedures at its Frankfurt hub. Dedicated waste collection points were set up and signage provided for the different sorting types. The information provided for employees included illustrations on information boards showing the required waste sorting process, as well as examples of what not to do. In addition, a closed-loop concept was drawn up in collaboration with a manufacturer of certified belts in the reporting year. In a practical test, belts which were no longer usable were returned to the manufacturer for recycling. Since this produced positive results, the procedure is to be introduced as a standard process in 2024.

New Lufthansa Technik waste collection centre optimises waste management

As part of efforts to optimise space, a new waste collection centre was built at Lufthansa Technik’s Hamburg location in the previous year, with a EUR 5.8m volume of investment. This collection centre went into service in 2023. The new building, which covers an area of 2,100 square metres, offers extra floor space to accommodate additional containers. This means that more waste types can be separated from the existing waste streams and undergo proper single-variety recycling, which should make it possible to manage this waste more effectively.

Performance indicators
Lufthansa Group performance indicators defined

In line with the Lufthansa Group’s goals for reducing waste and conserving finite resources, suitable performance indicators were defined in the reporting year to gauge the effectiveness of measures implemented and manage the levels of target achievement. These indicators will be used for measurement purposes from 2024 onwards.

As of the date of publication of this report, Lufthansa Technik’s recycling rate and the proportion of waste recycled by Lufthansa Cargo were not yet available for the reporting year. Lufthansa Cargo is currently working out how to generate the metrics to measure its rate of recycling for plastic waste.

Lufthansa Group Annual Report 2023