Why Its Important That Flights Ditch Single Use Plastics

These days we’re seeing more and more airlines opt for greener solutions to their single-use plastics. But why are so many making the move and why is it so important?

Hi Fly is already turning the tide on plastic. Photo: Alec Wilson via Wikimedia Commons

Reducing pollution

In 2017, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that airline cabin waste within the year amounted to 5.7 million tonnes. It’s a staggering amount which includes debris from headsets, food trays, bottles and packaging as well as any other rubbish that passengers generate from goods they have brought with them onboard.

But, no matter the amount of waste is generated, it has to go somewhere. And that place is almost always landfill.

Landfill sites are not only giant eyesores in our environment, but the decomposing of waste creates harmful toxins that seep into our land and water systems destroying the natural balance in the earth’s soil and freshwater systems. This can affect everything from what’s in the air we breathe to the food we eat and what plants can grow.

Not only this, but storing waste above ground means that it can get carried offshore by the wind and into our oceans. This not only disturbs the natural balance with toxins but also presents a danger to wildlife.

As part of a growing movement to reduce carbon footprints and better protect our environment, airlines must play their part.

Airline packaging ends up in our oceans. Photo: Bo Eide via Flickr

IATA estimates that cabin waste will continue to rise as the earth gets more populated and air travel continues to become more accessible. The volume of waste is predicted to increase to around 10 million tonnes a year by 2030. And that will mean nearly double the amount of aircraft waste that will be heading to landfill.

Cutting costs

If the environmental footprint of cabin waste is not enough to encourage airlines to change, then maybe reduced operating costs will be. Etihad is one of the larger airlines leading the environmental race by making significant changes to its inflight services as well as staff operations.

It reported having saved itself over $217,000 by installing 19-liter water dispensers in its break rooms to replace the 13,000 plastic bottles it distributes daily in the summer.

Etihad leading the way for large airlines. Photo: Paul Sullivan via Flickr

Etihad also flew plastic-free in honor of Earth Day this year. The service from Abu-Dhabi to Brisbane included a number of disposable alternatives such as:

“…sustainable amenity kits, award-winning eco-thread blankets made out of recycled plastic bottles, tablet toothpaste and edible coffee cups.”

Whilst the initial cost of buying eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics might seem extravagant, the cost of disposing of waste is actually a lot worse.

According to IATA, each year airlines shell out around $500 million to dispose of their waste. And the cost of waste disposal is rising as space gets more competitive. Having reusable solutions means that airlines do not need to continue consuming high quantities of single-use plastics, cutting down their operating costs in the long run.

Beating the competition

As consumers become more aware of news on the climate crisis, the race is on for the world’s first plastic-free airline.

Hi Fly, from Portugal, is already aiming for entirely plastic-free flights by the end of the year. Ryanair has recently updated its environmental policy to cut out non-recyclable plastics from its services by 2024.

Services like these provide passengers with more choice; an ability to continue living eco-conscious lifestyles without having to compromise on travel. And if that sentiment is appealing for enough people, there will be some stiff competition for these types of flights in the next few years ahead.

Hi Fly looking to be the first plastic-free airline. Photo: Ibex73 via Wikimedia Commons

Forced to make changes

Soon airlines might have no choice but to get rid of their single-use plastics. Some countries are taking plastic pollution into their own hands, like Pakistan who banned plastic packaging and cutlery on international services operating in and out of the country. Bans like this mean airlines are forced to change their operations without much warning.

It goes without saying that in all instances getting ahead of the curve is definitely beneficial for airlines. They will be able to operate more competitively, save more money and better protect the environment.

Then all they need to worry about is the impact of jet fuel…

What’s your opinion on single-use plastics on inflight services? Let us know.