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Being sustainable is all about making the better choice where you can. But, how can we do so when flying? Airline travel is responsible for approximately 900 million tons of CO2 emissions annually and around 5-7 million tons of single use plastic waste including headsets, foot trays and plastic water bottles. These are two big problems and ones that cannot easily be solved by travelers. What we can control are the airlines we choose.
The same way that we can make a conscious choice to bring a reusable water bottle when traveling to reduce our waste, we can choose an airline that makes a conscious choice to reduce their own environmental impact. Some have begun investing in sustainable and renewable fuel options to reduce their CO2 emissions. Others are reducing the use of single-use plastic items or adopting full on zero waste methods to go completely plastic free.
Thanks in part to environmentalists, activists and customers, several airlines have made plastic free declarations over the last few years. Plastic items like straws, packaging, cutlery, toothbrushes and water bottles will be replaced with their eco-friendly counterparts made from compostable, plant-based or reusable materials. By setting these sustainable initiatives airlines aim to remove millions of pieces of plastic from landfills and our environment yearly. And, by supporting these airlines, we can satisfy our get-out-of-town itch in a way that is better for the environment and more sustainable in the long run.
Only 9% of plastic is recycled nationwide – the rest ends up in landfills, burned or in our environment. the reality is that we need to move to renewable options.Todd Traynor-Corey, Managing Director of Guest Products for Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is the latest airline to replace single-use plastic water bottles served inflight with a more eco-friendly alternative. Through a partnership with Boxed Water, the airline will now offer water in plant-based cartons and recyclable paper cups on their flights. Through this partnership Alaska Airlines estimates that it will successfully remove 22 million plastic cups and 32 million plastic bottles from their flights yearly.
We discovered we could remove 27 million single-use plastic lids from our in-flight service a year and, as a leading airline, it’s our responsibility to act on this, to challenge industry standards.Tony Douglas, CEO Etihad Airways
In 2019 the airline became the first airline to reveal that they would no longer offer single-use plastic products on board their long haul flights. The statement was released on World Earth Day on April 22nd in an announcement detailing the airline’s plans to replace their standard plastic coffee cups with edible wafer coffee cups and blankets made from recycled plastic bottles. Around 95-single use plastic products including cutlery, dishes, headset bags and toothbrushes were identified as items that would be replaced with eco-friendly alternatives. As part of their ongoing commitment to reduce their company’s environmental impact, Etihad also announced their partnership with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi on marine environmental clean-up initiatives.
The airline cut out millions of single use plastic items in 2020 including stirrers, packaging, water bottles and retail bags. These items were replaced with recyclable alternatives made from bamboo, paper and recycled plastic materials. All in all, British Airways announced that these changes would eliminate 700 tons of single-use plastic from their flights annually. Yet, the airline also stated that they aim to do more by making the switch to eco-friendly alternatives for other items like cutlery, toothpicks and some food packaging.
Since 2019 Emirates has taken small steps against single-use plastic waste. The airline began by replacing plastic straws with paper ones and announced that they would replace plastic bags for inflight purchases with paper ones. Other zero initiatives include using blankets made from recycled plastic bottles and recycling plastic bottles sold on flights. By implementing recycling programs on board their flights as well, the airline stated that these actions could save 81.7 million single-use items from the landfills. According to their Environmental Report for 2017- 2018, Emirates airlines recycled 27.5 tons of plastic and 2.85 tons of paper and cardboard.
After testing out the world’s first plastic free flight in late 2019, the Portuguese airline Hi Fly announced their plans to began single-use plastic free flights in the beginning of 2020. Items like spoons, cups and cutlery are replaced with eco-friendly options made from bamboo. Packaging for bedding, toothbrushes and other items are made from compostable materials. This comes on the heels of other sustainable initiatives announced by the airline including their declaration to engage in carbon offset programs to become carbon neutral by 2022 and recycling programs to better manage waste.
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