Sealed beverages and unopened snacks from Air New Zealand flights will be recycled rather than sent to landfills.

The airline, its catering partner LSG Sky Chefs and the Ministry for Primary Industries are involved in a what they say is a world-first scheme to divert 150 tonnes of waste from landfill annually.

The waste reduction initiative, Project Green, has enabled 40 Air New Zealand in-flight products that were previously sent to landfill due to biosecurity controls to be reclassified so they can be reused on future flights if removed from aircraft sealed and untouched.

More items would be added. In the first month of running the project across its international fleet, the airline diverted 13 tonnes of waste, including 266,000 plastic cups, 480kg of sugar packets and 3.5 tonnes of bottled water.

The programme, which has been developed over 18 months, is also enabling greater recycling of low biosecurity risk packaging, more accurate loading of catering items onto aircraft and reduced waste disposal costs with fewer items sent to landfill.

The International Air Transport Association estimates the global industry generated 5.2 million tonnes of in-flight waste in 2016.

Air NZ's head of operational delivery Alan Gaskin said the project required a change in on-board processes for the airline's staff, particularly for cabin crew who play a key role by returning unused items to stowage and separating goods correctly.

Air New Zealand has also introduced a new programme to recycle paper coffee cups used on board domestic jet services which is expected to divert 60 tonnes of cups from landfill yearly. Previously there has not been access to a recycling plant able to process at the scale the airline requires, however a new facility in Auckland is helping to change that.

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• The airline has signed a contract with Christchurch-based Hummingbird Coffee to serve its organic, fairly traded coffees onboard in its international Business Premier and Premium Economy cabins, as well as in its airport lounges.