Reflow has joined forces with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines on a unique project to create a companywide sustainable 3D printing system. As a team, this is the challenge that drives everything we do. Our goal is to identify and transform streams of plastic waste into valuable raw materials that can power creativity, innovation and value within communities and organisations everywhere.

A Global Opportunity

Last year, there were over 37.8 million flights worldwide. Because of the controlled and consistent nature of these environments, airplanes present an exciting opportunity to quickly introduce and replicate plastic recycling systems across fleets. Could the waste generated by passengers on board be used to support the teams of engineers that keep us in the air?

When we set off, over a year ago, the answer to this question was unknown. Strong collaborations are essential when exploring transformative ideas and working with the Radical Innovation Team at KLM is a perfect fit. By 2030, the entire organisation is committed to reducing waste by 50% and 3D printing is already deeply embedded within this iconic airline. That’s where we come in.

The Collaborative System in Action

Every flight generates a consistent flow of discarded plastic waste, from the bottles we drink to the containers we eat from. KLM has implemented a system to collect and sort this material at their Catering Services facility, isolating a stream of high quality, single use material. This is then processed at leading European recycler, Morsinkoff Rymoplast who in turn provide us with a pelletised input that we can transform into 3D printing materials at our extrusion facility in North Amsterdam. One week of this system in action provided us with the means to produce over 150 kg’s worth of high-performance PETG filament.

Could the waste generated by passengers on board be used to support the teams of engineers that keep us in the air?

Applications That Drive Real Commercial Value

This is where the magic begins. Reflow delivers the final product, Aerofil PETG filament, back to the KLM Engineering and Maintenance team who now use these materials every day to accelerate their processes. For example, special plugs are printed for Boeing-737 aircrafts to protect the turbine blades during painting. This eliminates the tonnes of polyurethane tape previously used to protect the turbine blades under work. Similarly, a customised 3D printed tool now means that the removal of the hand luggage shelf on the Boeing-787 aircrafts can be performed by one technician instead of two.

These two simple examples highlight how sustainable 3D printing can make specific processes cheaper and more efficient while also tackling plastic pollution. There are hundreds of similar applications and they are evolving to new areas at KLM every day. Arlette van der Veer and her Radical Innovation team are continuously driving this discovery with the uptake of this technology and the results are incredible.

A Sustainability Blueprint

A few weeks back, we welcomed KLM intern Valentina la Macchia at Reflow HQ to walk her through our processes and the work we do. Our conversation brought home the value of this collaboration for us a team and reminded us how proud we are of this first blueprint. As societies, we need to eliminate the unnecessary use of plastic material. However, we also need to create an effective after-use plastic economy for the plastic we use that delivers economic benefits and can become sustainable if properly managed. Together, we’re only getting started but it’s one powerful step for KLM as they focus on that core question, is sustainable air travel possible?


Co-Founder & CMO
Talkative Selkie, artful strategist. Lover of all things film, music and cats.