IATA and UNEP to Address Key Environmental Challenges in Aviation Including Single-Use Plastics

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Istanbul – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aligned with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to address sustainability challenges in the aviation industry.  

Reduction of problematic single use plastics products (SUPP) and improving the circularity in the use of plastics by the industry is the initial focus of the partnership as UNEP leads global efforts to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, by the end of 2024. 

Making aircraft cabins more sustainable is a priority for airlines and their passengers. The complex and asymmetrical regulatory environment, however, often poses an obstacle by preventing circular economy best practices. In the absence of a global approach, differing regulations at both ends of a journey severely limit the actions that airlines can take.

IATA advocates for a simplified and harmonized regulatory environment that would enable a reduction in plastic utilization and greater reuse, and recycling of cabin waste, including plastics, where they are needed. To this end, the partnership will step-up IATA’s engagement with UNEP to ensure that aviation’s unique challenges and opportunities are represented in the upcoming international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution. 

Already, IATA and UNEP are working on joint guidance on Re-thinking Plastics in Aviation. This comprehensive resource will encompass an overview of regulations, guidance on SUPP replacement, and recommended best practices for both industry and regulators.

“World Environment Day reminds us that sustainability is our number one global challenge. Formalizing IATA’s longstanding collaboration with UNEP will help airlines move even faster on improving the sustainability of the aircraft cabin. It’s critical that we achieve a harmonized global regulatory framework to enable airlines to implement more comprehensive and common circular economic solutions in all markets. For example, currently our hands are tied with outdated regulations focused on incineration rather than reuse and recycling. Modernizing that will be a big step forward for sustainability,” said Marie Owens Thomsen, IATA’s SVP Sustainability and Chief Economist.

“UNEP is looking forward to working with IATA, to helping the industry transition to net zero, reduce food waste and move away from SUPP. The aviation industry can also help by raising awareness among passengers and staff, and ensure that all stakeholders of the aviation value chain are engaged, and most importantly act in a joined-up way to end plastic pollution,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division.

More than 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year, half of which is designed to be used only once. Of that, only nine percent is recycled, with the pollution it generates making it extremely urgent that global action is taken. 

Under this partnership, IATA and UNEP also plan to work together on knowledge sharing, guidance and networking in other key sustainability challenges including sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), sustainable finance, climate adaptation, biodiversity conservation including preventing wildlife trafficking and sustainable tourism. 

UNEP is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the environment.