Airlines are waking up to the scale of their contribution to the problem of single-use plastic.
Etihad has become the second airline to operate a single-use plastic-free flight, with its Abu Dhabi-Brisbane service landing on Earth Day. Portuguese company HiFly operated the first at the end of last year.
The company flew its service from Lisbon to Brazil, and replaced plastic items with biodegradable bamboo alternatives amongst other solutions.
Almost all airlines, from luxury companies like Etihad to budget-friendly ones like RyanAir, have committed to reducing their single-use plastics consumption. HiFly currently has the most ambitious timeline, promising to be plastic-free by the end of this year.
However, the Telegraph reports there are various problems facing the industry in its goal.
Jamal Al Awadhi, Etihad’s vice president of guest experience told the publication, “An ultra-long-haul flight means double the equipment and service.”
He explained, “To ensure Etihad could make the commitment long-term across its entire network, a full-service test was required.”
Etihad says it identified 95 individual single-use items that need to be replaced. The airline considered everything from plastic “hygiene wrapping” for blankets to the in-flight amenity bags, with solutions coming from unexpected places.
Etihad is now working with brands such as Cupffee, which makes edible coffee cups, and Buzz, who collaborated on eco-friendly amenity kits.
Public Perception vs. Corporate Responsibility
Buzz previously collaborated on Kate Spade-branded amenity kits for Qantas. The brand found that “adding a designer label resulted in fewer passengers leaving the amenity kits on planes where they’d ultimately become landfill.”
Al Awadhi said of the exercise, “This was a truly eye-opening experience for all employees working on the project.” He added, “The amount of single-use plastic onboard and the environmental impact was unclear until all items were physically laid out.”
However, the public is beginning to realize the scale of the problem, and many are holding businesses accountable.
“There is a growing concern globally about the overuse of plastics which can take thousands of years to decompose,” Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said in a statement.
“We discovered we could remove 27 million single-use plastic lids from our inflight service a year and, as a leading airline, it’s our responsibility to act on this, to challenge industry standards and work with suppliers who provide lower impact alternatives.”
Eithad has pledged to reduce its single-use plastics by up to 80% by 2023.