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KLM Recycles Plastic Bottles to Make Tools to Repair its Aircraft

As part of its efforts to reduce waste, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is recycling PET plastic bottles to make 3D tools for repairing and maintaining its aircraft.

According to an announcement, KLM is the first airline in the world to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles for this purpose.

“We are continuously investing in sustainable and innovative products and processes for the benefit of our customers, society and our own employees,” said Ton Dortmans, Executive Vice President of Engineering & Maintenance at KLM.

Empty PET 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.

This process means an empty water bottle can end up as part of a 3D-printed piece of equipment that saves Engineering & Maintenance (E&M) time and money.

“It’s terrific to see how we are able to make useful products from waste materials,” Dortmans said.

3D printer with filament

KLM E&M has been using 3D printers for quite some time in ways that speed up repair and maintenance processes. For example, special plugs have been developed to ensure that rim holes don’t get painted over when the wheels on Boeing 737s are painted.

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.

By working with the recycling company Morssinkhof Rymoplast and the filament manufacturer Reflow, KLM is now able not only to be innovative in its use of 3D printing, but also to make the process circular.

KLM aims to reduce the volume of its waste by 50 percent 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 percent and 28 percent of what remained was recycled.

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