Plastic usage is never more in your face or seemingly unavoidable than when you’re trapped on an airplane. Pillows and blankets and headphones are wrapped in plastic. Water from plastic bottles is poured into plastic cups, served alongside a snack served in a plastic container or a meal served on a plastic tray with plastic lids and plastic silverware (not talking to you, business class) wrapped in still more plastic. Flying on a plane seems to require copious amounts of plastic. That could be changing, though.
Last December, Portuguese-based airline Hi Fly flew from Lisbon to Natale, Brazil, without any single-use plastics. Now the idea is going a bit more mainstream. On Earth Day, Etihad Airways will take to the skies without any single-use plastics, a first in the ultra-long-haul sector. Flight EY484 will depart Abu Dhabi on April 21 and land in Brisbane on April 22 Earth Day, flying thousands of miles without single-use plastics.
It’s a feat that frankly seems impossible, as modern air travel’s reliance on single-use plastics is overwhelming. Personally, I think my editor should approve a ticket from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane so I can report firsthand on how they pull this off. (Editor’s note: Sorry, no.)
To make the plan work, Etihad teamed up with Buzz, which supplies the airline’s amenity products, to create sustainable amenity kits, eco-plush toys, and blankets made out of recycled plastic bottles. The airline assessed its onboard products and cut out plastic wrappings, swapped in Cupffee’s edible coffee cups, and came up with eco-friendly alternatives for over 95 single-use plastic products used across aircraft cabins, from cups to cutlery, dishes, headset bags, cart seals, and toothbrushes. Once removed from this flight, Etihad prevented over 50 kilograms of plastics from being landfilled. Where suitable replacements could not be sourced, these items were not loaded.
What is starting out as an Earth Day promotion is actually a first step in the Abu Dhabi-based airline’s plan to reduce its use of single-use plastic on flights. The goal is to remove up to 20% of the single-use plastic items on board by June 1, 2019, moving up to 80% by the end of 2022. That’s in addition to a commitment to cut single-use plastic across the entire organization by the end of 2022.
If the national airline of the UAE can do it as it circles the globe, surely innovative airlines like Delta, American, and JetBlue can come up with new ways of reducing plastic on their planes, too.