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The next plane seats are made from cactus skin and fishing nets

The next plane seats are made from cactus skin and fishing nets
Airlines are racing to reach their goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 as pressure from governments grows to cut emissions faster. (Photo: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Airline passengers may soon be nestled on seats made from cactus skin and abandoned fishing nets as the aviation industry tries almost anything to turn itself into a sustainable mode of transport. 

The economy-class seat from German manufacturer Recaro Aircraft Seating GmbH features recycled foam taken from old mattresses, and armrests containing wood and a cork compound. There’s a mesh pocket on the back made from fish netting.

In an interview at the Singapore Airshow, Recaro CEO Mark Hiller said the seat should be commercially available this year, with first deliveries expected in 2025 at the latest. Some components still need to be certified.

Airlines are racing to reach their goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 as pressure from governments grows to cut emissions faster. Plane seats made with recycled materials allow carriers to make a visible statement about their green ambitions. 

Cactus skin has emerged as an alternative to plastic or animal leather. One of the chair’s other design requirements was to make sure it was no heavier than a normal seat so it didn’t add to a plane’s fuel consumption.

“Otherwise, it will not help,” Hiller said. “The parts need to be the same weight, or even lower, than traditional parts.” 

According to Recaro, whose customers include Southwest Airlines and Air India, 80% of the seat comes from reused materials, and the seat itself is completely recyclable. 

Aviation’s sustainability challenges dominated the Singapore Airshow this week. The most powerful emissions-reduction tool for carriers is sustainable aviation fuel made from waste oils or agricultural feedstock, but supply is barely 1% of total requirements.

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