What is the pilot’s favorite kind of bagel?
I recently won 5,000 miles by answering that pun correctly on my most recent flight with Spirit Airlines. The budget airline doesn’t have the best reputation for comfort or customer service, but one thing I (jokingly) realized it does have going for it is sustainability.
The airline is so cheap and bare bones, they don’t give out complimentary water, snacks or blankets—and their flights are FREEZING! Whether the airline capitalizes on this or not, it’s saving millions of single-use plastics from landfills and the environment. Jokes aside, this got me thinking. One million plastic disposable cups are used every six hours on flights just in the US, and that startling statistic doesn’t include all of the utensils, cans, bottles and other plastic items discarded per flight. So which airlines are doing something to reduce all the waste when flying?
The Future Is Plastic Free
And airlines are taking notice—at least some of them. Many airlines are just ditching plastic drink stirrers and straws in an effort to demonstrate goodwill but other airlines are going above and beyond. We’d like to take a moment to recognize the airlines that are taking a stance against single-use plastic, so you can book your next dream vacation responsibly.
But first, a haiku on single-use plastic:
I love flying but
Single-use plastics must go
Airlines, get on board!
Airlines Taking a Stand Against Single-Use Plastics
Hi Fly is leading the way in plastic-free travel with an ambitious goal of eliminating single-use plastic on all its flights before 2019 ends. In December 2018, Hi Fly was the first airline to fly a single-use, plastic-free flight by cutting all plastic from an Airbus A340 flight Portugal to Brazil. Bamboo and compostable alternatives replaced the typical in-flight accessories like utensils, cups, bedding packaging, toothbrushes and soft drink bottles.
According to Etihad Airways News, the airline reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 148,000 tons in 2018 by switching to the more fuel-efficient aircraft, utilizing just one engine to taxi the plane and lower flap settings for landing. Removing 148,000 tons is carbon dioxide is the equivalent of removing 10,200 cars from the streets! But that’s not all—for Earth Day on April 22 Etihad operated a flight free of single-use plastics from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane. The flight was such a success (it removed 50 kilograms of plastic waste!), the airline committed to removing up to 20 percent of single-use plastics from flights by June 2019. The airline’s ultimate goal is to remove 80 percent of single-use plastics from flights, lounges and the entire organization by the end of 2022.
Etihad Airways has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the environment to customers. In fact, according to Etihad Air News, “In January 2019, Etihad Airways flew the world’s first commercial flight using locally produced sustainable fuel made from plants grown in saltwater, the flagship project of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium.”
On May 8, 2019, Qantas operated what is being called the first “waste-free flight” on Earth. Nothing aboard the QF 739 from Sydney to Adelaide will end up in a landfill, but rather be reused, recycled or composted. The Australian airline teamed up with BioPak to replace the plastic meal kits with fully-compostable containers and cutlery and SUEZ to dispose of items via composting and recycling. Everything not recyclable will be turned into PEF, a non-fossil fuel used in cement. This is just the beginning for Qantas’ green journey—the kangaroo-logo airline states it’s cutting 75 percent of waste by the end of 2021.
In 2018, Ryan Air announced a plan to become “greenest airline” and go plastic-free in-flight and across the company by 2023, along with a voluntary carbon offset payment available to customers.
Air New Zealand
In 2018, Air New Zealand substituted single-use plastic stirrers, straws, toothbrushes and eye mask wrappers with eco-friendly alternatives, saving 260,000 plastic toothbrushes, 3,000 straws, 7.1 million stirrers and 260,000 eye mask wrappers over twelve months. The airline’s ultimate goal is to reduce plastic waste by 24 million items per year by the end of 2019.
As of April 2019, Air Canada is partnering with 4ocean to reduce and eliminate plastic wherever possible in its flights. The process will start with the elimination of plastic stir sticks and move down various stages of the supply chain. 4ocean has removed four million pounds of trash from to ocean and the partnership allows Air Canada employees the opportunity to participate in beach cleanups in North America.
In 2018, Alaska Airlines partnered with nonprofit Lonely Whale to replace single-use plastic straws and fruit picks with sustainable alternatives across all flights and lounges. White birch stir sticks will replace the plastic sticks and non-plastic, marine-friendly straws will be available on request. The airline supplied 22 million plastic straws and fruit picks in 2017 alone so these changes represent a sizable step in the Alaska Airlines’ effort to reduce plastic pollution. The airlines’ ultimate goal is to reduce in-flight waste by 70 percent by 2020.
Lonely Whale executive director, Dune Ives says, “The airline has the most comprehensive inflight recycling program of any U.S. carrier to date, and their previous and future commitments to biofuels and sustainability makes them the perfect partner for Lonely Whale. The banning of single-use plastic beverage straws sets a new standard for the travel industry, and we couldn’t be happier that Alaska Airlines is the first. U.S. airline to lead the charge.”
While Virgin Australia Airlines has transitioned from single-use plastic straws and stirrers to environmentally friendly alternatives, it’s the new Virgin cruise line that’s really making waves in the fight against plastic pollution. The adults-only Virgin Voyages ship Scarlett Lady is scheduled to set sail in 2020 and it’s the first cruise ship with no single-use plastic onboard. In addition, the cruise offers a Tree-Free™ experience meaning all paper products onboard are made with a byproduct of agricultural crops instead of trees.
Since 2018, American Airlines has eliminated 71,000 pounds of plastic per year by swapping plastic straws and stir sticks for bamboo alternatives and they swapped paper cups for plastic foam cups in 2015. So far the airline hasn’t announced any other efforts to reduce single-use plastics on their flights but we’ll stay tuned.
Takeaway & Solutions
It’s clear that 2018 was the year of banning the plastic straw, but will airlines continue in the fight against plastic pollution? Would you be willing to pay more for a flight that’s single-use-plastic free?