Airlines explore alternatives to single-use plastics

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that more than 6.2 million tons of cabin waste was generated in 2017. Within that waste, cups, cutlery, coffee stirrers, packaging, and more are single-use plastics.

IATA estimates that if no action is taken, cabin waste could double within fifteen years. 1 Fortunately, action is being taken! Among the innovations, airlines are replacing single-use plastics with compostable materials.

Hi Fly, a wet lease carrier based in Lisbon, recently chartered the world’s first plastic-free flights. The four Airbus A340 flights between Lisbon and Brazil replaced over 771 pounds of single-use plastics with compostable alternatives bamboo or recycled materials. The items ranged from cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, dishes, and drink bottles to toothbrushes and packaging materials1.


Several airlines are finding alternatives that are compostable or more easily recycled than plastic. 1


easyJet will discount hot drink purchases for customers supplying their own reusable cup. The airline is also introducing a compostable cup having a plant-based lining.


easyJet is replacing plastic spoons with wooden alternatives.

Drink stirrers
  • Air Canada will save 35 million plastic stir sticks annually, replacing them on all flights with wood stir sticks. If laid end-to-end, those sticks could extend from Halifax to Vancouver. 3
  • Air Canada’s stir stick replacement will be made of bamboo and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which assures products come from responsible sources so that forests remain thriving environments for generations to come.
  • Air New Zealand has already removed more than 7 million coffee stirrers.
  • Wood stir sticks are replacing plastic ones on easyJet.
  • Alaska Airlines no longer uses plastic straws.
  • Delta Air Lines is phasing out plastic straws.
  • To date, Air New Zealand has removed more than 3,000 straws.
Other single-use items

Half a million eye mask bags and toothbrushes have been removed from Air New Zealand lounges and aircraft.


  • Among the goals that Air Canada has set for 2020, 50 percent of approved items onboard will be recycled rather than single-use. 3
  • Over the next year, Air New Zealand will ban plastic cups, lids, bags, and a dozen other single-use items.
  • British Airways has committed to source non-plastic alternatives where possible.
  • Within a year of its four historic wet-lease flights, Hi Fly will implement a plastic-free policy on all its flights.
  • Within its five-year plan to become “the greenest airline”, Ryanair has pledged to eliminate non-recyclable plastics from its aircraft and head offices. On board, items like wooden cutlery and bio-degradable coffee cups will replace plastic products.
  • This year, Thomas Cook will remove more than 70 million single-use plastics from aircraft and in its branded hotels. That equates to 3,500 filled suitcases.

[1] The Telegraph

Alexa Stone
LEED AP, Sustainable Facility Professional, Envision Sustainability Professional - - Alexa has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable and Smart Cities development. Her strategic planning work has served local, state, and federal government, higher education, and private industry. Alexa founded ecoPreserve in 2009 as a team of 3 and has grown the company to over a dozen of the brightest sustainability and project management professionals in the industry.
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