Need I say Moores

Plastics push

Irish LCC Ryanair has pledged to go single-use plastic-free within five years in a move that will hopefully kick other airlines into action.

Airline emissions are already coming under close scrutiny, but Ryanair is the first airline that I know of to have made a commitment like this. I quizzed Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the aviation-industry environment body, on whether they were aware of any other airlines that had pledged to go plastic-free. Apparently Air New Zealand introduced reusable plastic cutlery a few years back, but no other examples immediately sprang to mind.

This was a topic which had been on my mind, even prior to the Ryanair announcement. Last October I took three flights to get down to Margate in South Africa and another three back. During that trip, I was given at least six sets of plastic cutlery…and that’s just one passenger on one trip.

When I got back to the UK, I heard a compelling presentation from two young girls – Amy and Ella (aged 14 and 12) – who are campaigning against single-use plastics. This made me question what airlines were doing about their plastic use.

With Amy and Ella’s talk in mind, on a recent British Airways (BA) long-haul flight, I asked whether the plastic cutlery from the meal tray would be reused if I declined it (I already had a set from the first meal service). The cabin crew told me it would most likely be thrown away, unused.

Then, a few days back, I received a press release from Ryanair, committing to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from its onboard service over the next five years. “For customers on board, this will mean initiatives such as a switch to wooden cutlery, biodegradable coffee cups, and the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products,” Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said.

Some plastics never biodegrade, so wood is a more sustainable option, even though wood has its own carbon footprint.

There is the argument that Ryanair - a short-haul airline that sells refreshments – will find it easier to cut plastic use than a long-haul airline that caters for every passenger. But waste from long-haul flights is a big problem that still needs to be dealt with.

However, compared with companies that serve products on the ground, airlines face stringent legal and quarantine requirements when it comes to onboard waste. Recycling off international flights is restricted almost everywhere - and that’s before you consider the additional hurdles of airline safety/security, limited space on board and the cost of carrying additional weight.

IATA is working to show governments that the ‘high quality’ of on-board waste means recycling can be achieved without associated quarantine issues, but for now airline have to abide by the existing rules.

ATW attempted to contact several airlines to see if they had similar initiatives, but only LCC Norwegian replied with a comment before this blog post went to press. “Norwegian wishes to reduce the use of plastic on board. We are currently in talks with our catering partners about how we can jointly contribute to reducing the use of plastic during meal service on board,” a Norwegian spokesman said.

Plastic use is definitely coming under the spotlight and it’s only a matter of time before airlines come under increasing pressure to act. My feeling is that Ryanair is ahead of the curve on this one and my hope is that others will follow.

If you know of any airlines with similar initiatives, please drop me a line on the email address below.

Victoria Moores

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