Consumer electronics are synonymous with airport retail but generate huge amounts of waste. According to the International Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, a staggering 5.3 billion mobile phones were discarded in 2022 alone. The number continues to climb and it’s worth noting that mobiles are by no means the only electronic products that consumers are under constant pressure to replace and discard. Now an innovative project at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol aims to make a dent in the mountains of plastic debris.

The initiative sees Dutch airport electronics retailer Capi joining forces with Renewd, a supplier of certified pre-owned equipment. According to the partners, this is an important step towards promoting sustainability and the circular economy in airport retail. Travellers using Schiphol will see the collaboration in practice at Schiphol Plaza, Lounge 1 and Lounge 2.

Renewd, based in Utrecht, made its name by providing second-life devices that meet strict standards for functionality and quality, offering travellers an environmentally friendly alternative to buying new electronics. Each device is checked by professionals, using the manufacturer’s official software, for more than 80 points, carefully cleaned and delivered in ecological packaging. Not only does purchasing a second-life device prevent used electronics from ending up in e-waste prematurely, but it saves valuable resources for use in the production of new products.

Capi/ Renewd Schiphol launch

The Capi and Renewd teams mark their Schiphol collaboration

As well as offering reliable eco-friendly devices, Renewd is introducing an innovative trade-in stand at Capi’s Schiphol outlet. This means that consumers can trade in their old smartphones there and then, receiving a financial benefit in return. This allows them to extend the life of their devices while reducing their own environmental footprint. Devices traded in will undergo Renewd quality control and be given a new life, the company explained.

Georgina Lira, head of marketing and branding at Renewd, said: “By working together, we aren’t only selling alternative electronics, but promoting a circular economy and empowering consumers to play an active role in reducing e-waste.”

Capi has more than 50 stores at 21 airports worldwide. The B&S Group firm says it is proud to be the first and only store in the Netherlands to offer consumers at airports the opportunity to hand in their old devices and have access to environmentally friendly alternatives. The rollout at Schiphol is just the first step in what Capi and Renewd consider an ongoing partnership, the two already having signed an exclusive deal to replicate the arrangement at the other European airports featuring Capi stores.


The benefits of lightweighting

Travellers are by no means the only people at airports using plastic equipment. As automation grows and we move further from traditional static check-in processes, we are seeing an increase in the number of mobile facilities, whether common use self-service (CUSS) kiosks or hand-held devices designed to print boarding passes, tickets and so on. For these to be easily moved or carried they need to be lightweight. That invariably means they are made from plastic. Here, too, suppliers have had to address environmental sensitivities and regulations.

Ink bag tag printer

Ink is making its products smaller, smarter and simpler to use


Alicante, Spain-headquartered Ink Innovation is a pioneer of mobile passenger handling. Among its products are hand-held devices that will enable airport staff to print IATA-compliant bag tags and boarding passes without the need for desks, power supplies or connectivity.

Yurik Schwab, head of hardware systems at Ink, believes that the future of self-service in airports could evolve dramatically, reducing physical desks and devices: “Ink follows the core principles of hardware development – making products smaller, smarter and simpler to use. This leads to a streamlined airport experience with minimal hardware, potentially evolving towards a walkthrough airport where passengers rely more on digital and mobile solutions for intuitive interactions and services.”

Not only is Ink developing check-in equipment that is much more compact than its predecessors – thus requiring less plastic – but it is making the devices from modern materials that make them more efficient and produce less waste during manufacturing and disposal: “Another way to reduce waste is by using recycled materials for paper-based products like bag tags. However, this is not a common practice, and its usage can vary depending on local regulations and commitment to environmental policies.” Schwab also notes that the latest generation of devices and apps may mean passengers need not print out their travel details at all.

Thales AT10K

Its new size has enabled Thales to rethink packaging of the AT10K 

It's not just at the check-in stage that new technology is addressing environmental concerns. France’s Thales has developed a document reader with eco-friendliness at its heart. The Thales AT10K reader, which consumes 28% less power than previous generations, has been designed to inspect and capture data from travel documents, including electronic travel documents and the 1D and 2D barcodes used by the airline industry on boarding passes and mobile phones. It can be integrated with self-service airport kiosks and automated passport control gates.

A Thales spokesperson told Airports International: “As the best waste is no waste, we removed non-mandatory accessories, such as the power supply, unless specifically required by our customers. This was made possible by the availability of USB power mode on the AT10K. Beyond saving the manufacturing of the power supply itself, it also comes with a reduction in shipping weight to our customers of 14%, reducing transport CO2 emissions by the same factor.”

Following this change in shipment configuration, Thales took the opportunity to re-design the packaging of the AT10K, reducing its size and volume by 32%: “Not only that, we were also able to make it plastic-free, swapping foam packaging, plastic bags and plastic glass protection with paper-based materials. This has not only reduced our overall plastic consumption and created a packaging solution that can be recycled after use, but it has also improved the end-use experience with a packaging design that is modern, easy to unpack and optimised for space storage at assembly sites.”

Thales integrates eco-friendly design throughout the entire process, from concept development to re-engineering. This comprehensive approach focuses on the product's entire lifecycle, including resource conservation, manufacturing and usage emissions, waste reduction and sustainable end-of-life disposal. In addition to tackling waste, Thales also uses recycled materials for products such as its automated border control (ABC) gates: “The conscious choice to adopt a slim design, and to switch from steel to high-quality aluminium including recycled content, significantly reduced the product’s weight by 50%.”

Food for thought

Food and beverage outlets are perhaps the most visible producers of plastic waste in airport terminals. However, there is an ongoing drive to reduce this dependence on single-use plastic. In New Zealand, for example, Auckland Airport has made great strides towards reducing waste sent to landfill, which it intends to cut to 20% below 2019 levels. Disposable cups supplied within the terminals must now be commercially compostable, while the airport “is encouraging the use of dine-in and washable cups, crockery and cutlery, where possible, rather than serving food and drinks in single-use, takeaway packaging,” according to head of retail Lucy Thomas.

Duty-free retailers at Auckland have phased in alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags and are progressing even more sustainable options including the use of reusable, woven shopping bags in place of thick, reusable plastic bags. Duty-free alcohol vendors are also trialling paper-based bottle protectors rather than plastic.

Earth Day

While airports and their suppliers are undoubtedly engaged and ingenuous when it comes to tackling the plastic problem, it remains an enormous issue that requires a consistent global approach.

April 22 was Earth Day 2024. This year’s theme was ‘Planet versus Plastics’, and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) marked the day by announcing that its Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), which develops guidance and best practices to be used by ICAO member states, is developing a new Eco Airport Toolkit Publication on Single-Use Plastics, set to be approved by CAEP this July and subsequently published on the ICAO website. The organisation hopes this new e-publication will increase public awareness around plastic pollution in international aviation and intends it to outline the diverse solutions being implemented through the use of appropriate case studies and best practices that will support global action. In addition, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently released the Reassessing Single Use Plastics Products in the Airline Sector report to assist airlines, regulators, and the airline supply chain to mitigate the environmental impacts of single-use plastic products (SUPP).

An IATA passenger insights survey conducted in November 2023 showed that more than three-quarters of passengers would feel better about flying if it did not involve any SUPP. While there remain vast regional differences between the speed with which plastics at airports are tackled, providing an optimal passenger experience is a goal common to all industry stakeholders, so perhaps findings like this will provide a little extra encouragement. 

plastic waste road surface at Schiphol

Schiphol is examining whether roads made of plastic offer a good alternative to asphalt and concrete

Road reinvention

In another ground-breaking – quite literally – initiative at Schiphol, recycled plastic has been used in the construction of roads. The Amsterdam hub undertook the project to ascertain whether roads made of plastic could offer a good alternative to asphalt and concrete. Schiphol said it was the first airport in the world to use sustainably sourced plastic as a paving material. The new surface was made from the airport’s own plastic waste.

The new plastic road has the same driving characteristics as asphalt, and was finished off with a thin top layer of crushed stone to make it wear-resistant and prevent it from becoming slippery during wet weather. In addition to reusing plastic waste, the road is easier to maintain than conventional roads, has a longer design life and is quicker and easier to build.

The plastic road also contributes to better and more natural water management at Schiphol. A special system in the road surface collects rainwater, filters it and gradually allows it to sink into the ground. The system also provides a water buffer during heavy rainfall, contributes to improved groundwater levels and filters out traffic pollution, preventing it from entering the ground along the road or the infiltration system.

The plastic road is part of a wider ongoing push to make Schiphol’s infrastructure more sustainable. Wherever it can, Schiphol uses circular demolition practices and reuses almost 70% of all demolition materials.

Cathay cargo recycled plastic sheeting

The terminal is the first in Hong Kong to use the 50% recycled plastic sheets

Cargo solutions

Cathay Cargo Terminal in Hong Kong has adopted 50% recycled plastic cargo cover sheets. The facility was the first in Hong Kong to introduce the sheets, which it will use for all export cargo shipments built up within its terminal. Previously it used sheets that contained a minimum of 30% recycled content.

The facility worked extensively with its supplier to develop this solution, which was thoroughly tested in the laboratory and rigorous real-world trials with its customer Cathay Cargo in 2023. It began rolling out the new material across the terminal in March 2024.

Michelle Fok, Cathay Subsidiaries’ head of sustainable development, said: “The circular economy is an important concept to reduce waste and prolong product lifecycles. Our cargo terminal has implemented circularity in cargo plastic sheets since 2017 and is already recycling 100% of plastic sheets from import cargo shipments, which are broken down at the Cathay Cargo Terminal. Our new sheets utilise 50% recycled post-consumer plastic, reducing the reliance on virgin plastic while meeting the operational demands of our customers. We remain committed to working with our suppliers to explore even higher levels of recycled plastic, as well as alternative materials, as part of our long-term goal to reduce plastics in cargo operations.”

In October 2023 Cathay Cargo Terminal became the first facility in Hong Kong to sign up to participate in the IATA Environmental Assessment (IEnvA) programme, which provides globally recognised environmental and sustainability standards for the aviation industry.