Designers recycle airliner on Channel 4 programme

Three designers, who specialise in turning scrap into cash, have made an array of new products from an Airbus aircraft which was featured on a Channel 4 programme hosted by Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud.

In last night’s (24 April) Channel 4 programme on aircraft recycling, designers Paul Firbank, Max McMurdo, and Harry Dwyer took bits of unused metal from the aeroplane and turned it into products such as rickshaws, clocks, tables, sofas and a garden office.

Their main task was to find a new use for every single piece of the plane.

TV presenter Kevin McCloud, who set the challenge, said that there were 8,000 Airbus A320 planes in service and a total of 325 of them get discarded every year.

He said: “Like so many beautifully designed machines we use them and then we chuck them away. But what if instead of putting them into landfill or melting them down we could make them into something new?”

He added that it was a shame that “something so beautifully looked after” would end up going to landfill and compared it to “taking a vintage car and throwing it away”.

The audience learnt how an Airbus contained around 30 tonnes of metal, five tonnes of plastic, 50 miles of wire and 300 square metres of fabric.

Aircraft recycling specialist Sycamore Aviation also featured on the Channel 4 programme. Chief executive Kevin O’Hare said an “awful lot” of materials from planes “goes to landfill”.

Traditionally, the aluminium outer shell of the plane is melted and the engines are sold for around £5m, according to McCloud. However, the wings, insulation, 180 seats and overhead lockers are normally sent to landfill.

McCloud interviewed Ricardo-AEA principal waste management consultant Sarahjane Widdowson at a Veolia-owned landfill site in Rainham, Essex, and asked her about views on aeroplane recycling.

Widdowson said that there were lots of composite materials in aeroplanes which made it difficult to recycle.

She said that it was an “absolute tragedy” that materials ended up in landfill and more effort should be made to recycle the materials.

The programme showed that the designers were able to sell their recycled products to consumers for a profit. McCloud concluded: “The most exciting part of this is we have shown the potential of upcycling.”

Arrow Media commissioned the filming of the programme. Speaking about the show, Arrow Media joint creative director Tom Brisley said: “It’s fantastic when you can combine a genuine TV event with something that can make a difference in the real world.

“As more airliners are broken up and melted down at the end of their lives, the skill and crafting that went into making them is lost forever, not to mention the pile of composite material which goes straight to landfill.

“We knew that finding ways of keeping the spirit of the plane alive in redesigned pieces, as well as reducing Britain’s waste, would inspire designer and champion of recycling, Kevin McCloud into action.”

Liz Gyekye

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