The World’s First Plastic Free Flight + DIY Tips For Your Next Trip

Hi Fly Leads The Way

Hi Fly's Hompage

With the Christmas holidays behind us and everyone returning work, I thought now would be a good time to get you thinking about your next holiday (if you weren’t already). Many businesses, big and small, are beginning to think about their plastic waste and how they can reduce it. 2018 saw many companies commit to a plastic pact, which aims to eliminate all unnecessary single-use plastic waste and make 100% of plastic packaging recyclable. It looks like 2019 could be the year that airlines start to introduce their own initiatives.

Hi Fly’s commitment to going reducing plastic waste is clear and they plan to be plastic free by the end of 2019, not just on their flights but also in their offices, their president Paulo Mirpuri has stated. “We started off with small initiatives such as installing water stations throughout our headquarters and other facilities, and distributing reusable water bottles to our employees. We’ve now been moving towards implementing new measures and processes that completely remove the use of plastic in all possible ways.”

Reusable water bottle
Hi Fly gave reusable water bottles to employees

Just a few days ago, Portuguese airline Hi Fly introduced the world’s first plastic free flight. The trial included 4 return flights from Portugal to Brazil using an Airbus A340. As we all know, flights are usually filled with single-use plastic. You have; plastic cups; containers; utensils; straws; stirrers; salt and pepper packets; butter pots and soft drink bottles, not to mention, the plastic-wrapped headphones, blankets and pillows. These were all replaced with recyclable alternatives and it is believed to have saved 350kg of single-use plastic from just these 4 return flights. That’s around the weight of 17 full suitcases.

“We can no longer ignore the impact plastic contamination has on ecosystems, as well as on human health. We know, too, from the feedback we have received from client airlines and passengers, that it’s the right thing for the airline to be doing.”

RyanAir Following Suit

An example of a company a little closer to home…

Photo of a RyanAir aircraft

RyanAir, which is not exactly known for their environmentalism, has also pledged to eliminate non-recyclable plastics from its operations by 2023. It will also introduce a voluntary carbon offset payment for customers when booking. As well as switching to biodegradable cups, wooden cutlery and paper packaging on board, Ryanair said it would make its head offices, bases and operations plastic free.

Chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said Ryanair’s environmental plan “includes our commitment to eliminate all non recyclable plastics from our operations over the next five years”.

In the future, customers may be able to bring their own cups on board, but added: “It’s not just inflight food and drink. We’re looking at the plastic parts within the aircraft and what’s nonrecylable and how do we work with the original equipment manufacturers to move to more recyclable plastics within the aircraft and the operation.”
But he admitted: “There will always be some kind of plastics … How far we get in terms of the 100% removal of non recyclable plastics we will see over the coming five years.”

Other Airlines Looking At Making Changes

Looking down the aisle of an aircraft

Air New Zealand are eliminating and replacing single-use plastics throughout their operations and the airline are committed to replacing five single-use plastic products across domestic services, including water cups, café cups and lids, Koru Hour cheese plates and lids, as well as 9 types of plastic bags network-wide, with lower impact alternatives over the next 12 months.

Last year the the airline removed single-use plastic straws, stir sticks, eye mask wrappers and plastic toothbrushes from lounges and on board aircraft. Over a 12-month period this saw see the airline reduce its plastic footprint by 260,000 plastic toothbrushes, 3,000 straws (I believe this is a mistake as it’s a very low number, but it is what they stated), 7.1 million stirrers and 260,000 eye mask wrappers.

Many other airlines, such as Delta, Qantas and American Airlines are committing to such plans, with varying degrees of ambition.

The Difference This Would Make

Looking out of the window of an aircraft

If this trend can continue to grow and the majority of airlines can start to implement even just the simple changes, it can have a huge impact on the amount of plastic waste being produced every year. I am about to do some simple calculations using some figures I can find around the internet and making some assumptions, so if you feel I have any numbers way off, just let me know.

Using Hi Fly’s plastic free flights as an example:

Their 4 return flights carried 700 passengers and saved 350kg of plastic waste (according to Hi Fly)

That’s 0.5kg of plastic waste per passenger. Which I will then half because Portugal to Brazil is a long flight (10 hours, the average flight is around 4/5 hours). Which gives 0.25kg per passenger per flight, which sounds fair in my opinion.

Now, there is an estimated 8 million airline passengers daily worldwide (2.6 million in the US according to the FAA).

8,000,000 x 0.25 = 2,000,000 kg of plastic waste produced everyday through air travel. The equivalent of 100,000 full suitcases.

Considering only 9% of plastic actually gets recycled, you can see why these kinds of initiatives can a have a massive impact.

DIY Tips For You Next Trip

As it stands, it is only a handful of airlines that are truly stepping up and making changes, so I think it’s important for us to make our own pact. Let’s reduce our plastic waste on our next trip with these 5 simple steps:

Plastic free utensils set
Plastic Free Utensils Set
  1. Take reusable cups – when you are offered tea or coffee, you can ask the flight attendant to fill your reusable cup. If they refuse, just tell them your reasoning and, more often than not, they will happily fill your cup.
  2. Take your own untensils – Only spoons and chopsticks will be allowed through security, so don’t try to take a knife and fork (even bamboo etc) as they will be confiscated at security and you may end up on some kind of watchlist 🙂
  3. Plastic bag for liquids – This is a tough one to avoid, so just be sure store it in the same place before and after every trip, so you can use it repeated (I think my plastic bag is up to about 10 flights).
  4. Bring snacks – You can take your own sandwiches and some fruit with you and have that instead of the provided meal on the flight. Let’s face it, you are not missing out on much.
  5. Refuse plastic – If you are offered a straw or a stirrer, simply saying ‘no’ will mean you are reducing your plastic waste and it feels great, right?

For more easy ways to reduce your plastic waste, please feel free to check out my previous article 15 easy ways to stop using plastic.

Will This Idea Take Off?

Airplane taking off

I had to use at least one cheesy take off pun, so at least I saved it until the end. Anyway…

The last year or two has seen a major rise in awareness of the problems plastic is causing and many companies are actually listening to us. There are initiatives and plans in place for many of the major airlines to get on board with and I think many of them will get in line if we, the customers, continue to keep it at the forefront of their thoughts.

So, what do you think? Will more airlines get on board with this idea? Would it influence the airline you choose to fly with?

As always, feel free to leave a comment, ask a question and share this article.

Thank you for reading!

Simon

21 thoughts on “The World’s First Plastic Free Flight + DIY Tips For Your Next Trip”

  1. Hi Simon,

    Thank you so much.
    This article gave me a lot of new input. I´m happy to see that Ryanair also is taking part of the movement. And nice that you create the consciousness of taking care of the environment. Every movement starts with a small step …. and you did it. Keep on with it!
    I´m looking forward to further interesting articles.

    Greetings from Germany

    Max

    • Hi Max,

      Thanks for checking out my article and I’m happy you enjoyed it.
      It is great to see companies like Ryanair getting involved. Honestly, it is the last airline I expected to do it, which makes it even better.

      Simon

  2. This post gave me some new information on recycling plastics. Some airlines around the world are beginning to get serious about getting rid of plastics in flights. The attack is on non-recyclable plastics.  Airlines carry millions of passengers everyday, so it would seem that they would take a big toll on throw away plastics. The part I really liked was information about how flyers could drastically reduce their use of plastics while flying. I really didn’t know about all the plastic that is used in flight.  I haven’t flown in a few years. It was eye-opening to learn just how much plastics was used per flight.   Hopefully, more American airlines will join  foreign airlines in attacking the over use of plastics. Was a good article with lots of information on recycling.  Something every one should be reading. I learned a lot. Thanks for the eye opener.

    • Hi Barbara,

      Thank you for you comment.

      It’s true, the real problems are with non-recyclable and single-use plastics. Both of which are present in most flights these days. I too hope some US airlines join the cause as it would be a big story and a way to get more attention to the initiative.

      Simon

  3. I think this idea is fantastic! I can’t believe how much plastic waste these flights saved. Goes to show that small changes can have a huge impact. The DIY tips are great too. Reusable chopsticks are inexpensive on amazon. I recently bought a set of 5 for about $8 US dollars. They will last me a lifetime.

    We have states within the United States that have banned plastic shopping bags. And More restaurants are giving out straws by request only. 

    I think every little thing we can do help. Glad to discover this blog with global initiatives to save our planet. Great post!

    Kim

    • Hi Kim,

      Yes, I couldn’t believe how much plastic airlines are using when I was researching this topic. Hopefully this idea catches on with more airlines.
      It is great to hear that some states in the US are being proactive with their plastic usage efforts.

      Simon

  4. Nice article Simon. Great example how small initiatives can make a real impact to reduce plastic waste. Reading your article I was imagining you could easily create a TED TALK and spread the idea! I’m not sure if you know about it some biodegrade plastic, I lived in Thailand sometime ago and one of my friends was leading the build of a factory to manufacturing biodegrade plastic from lactic acid, that help a little.

    • Hi Marcos,

      I love watching Ted-Talks, maybe one day I will make it onto that stage 🙂

      Yes, I have looked into biodegradable plastics and will in fact write an article about them soon, so keep an eye out for that!

      Simon

  5. Simon, this is a very informative article.  I had never really thought about how much trash was accumulated on an airline flight.  Nor had I thought about how much plastic is used and then thrown away.   Most flights that I take, here in the United States, are short enough that we do not have the cheese or other food trays.   

    At this point, I am not so certain that I would choose a flight just because they are reducing or eliminating the use of plastics.    There are too many other variables that are more important – cleanliness of plane, routes, cost, flight times, boarding processes, number of bags that I can take without getting charged, etc.     

    I would also be highly opposed to any attempt to eliminate beverage services on flights because they are trying to reduce plastic use.  My solution is that they consider going back to the days of having reusable dishes that must be washed afterwards.   That is what I have done at home.   

    • Hi Sondra,

      I haven’t heard of anyone trying to ban beverage services on flights up to now. You obviously need to let people have some food (depending on the length of the flight) and drinks. The main issue is, most of the time you would be served a (plastic) bottle of soda and a plastic cup to drink it from, maybe a plastic straw will be thrown in for good measure.

      The alternative would be to serve a can of soda (easier to recycle), with a glass/cup that can be washed and reused (as you said).

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      Simon

  6. Great article!!! That’s news to me…. I mean 2.000.000 kgs of plastic waste a day just from air travel? Hopefully, other Airlines will follow suit around the world, especially from the environmental standpoint. Regarding your tips, they are all valid, I guess I can bring snacks, my own plastic cup, and chopsticks next time I have to catch a flight.

    Keep it up, Simon!

  7. Awesome initiative Simon!

    I too am very concerned about reducing the usage of plastic but people always look down at me like I’m some kind of weirdo and I cannot help but feel sad for this people because they don’t seem to know how serious this is. Have you experienced the same thing too? I thought by now people might have known about the saving the environment.

    • Hi Riaz,

      I haven’t had any negative feedback so far (luckily) but there will always be people with their heads in the sand and unwilling to accept that there is a problem. Just keep fighting the good fight and if all else fails, send them to me and I will try to convince them 🙂

      Simon

  8. This is going to sound crazy but I never was on a plane before but I have been on a ferry and other means of public transport and my guess is this will take off in those areas, global warming has worsened but if we can delve into other areas like simple things like luggage name tags which can be turned from plastic to paper. there is alot more we can change but I honestly think everybody has got a responsibility and be open to all this on new ideas about recycling and to change our the environment in the long run, like what you highlighted there.  I hope this is the start of what is to come, anyway great article and thanks for sharing this

    • Hi Michael,

      I totally agree, we have really do have to be open to new ideas and change the system so it works better for everyone. And yes, small changes will always add up to a big difference.

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      Simon

  9. The initiative of Hi Fly’s is quite commendable. Our environment has been polluted by plastic for so long, it is good that companies and countries all over the world are beginning to sign up to the plastic pact and having a change in policy for a better environment as regards plastic waste. I strongly believe that the idea is going to fly, it might take a while though.

    • Hi Zuchii,

      Yes, it’s true that none of these problems will be fixed over night but every story like this is a victory and gets us one step closer to our goal.

      Hopefully the plastic problem will stay at the front of everyone’s thinking as this is the only way governments and businesses will make changes.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Simon

  10. Another great article!!!

    As a New Zealander I was very happy to read that Air New Zealand are also taking this seriously, not only for the environment, but also for the obvious economic reasons. I hope that other airlines follow suit. Sadly, some may not care about the environment, but money talks and when they realize are savings to be made I would imagine change will take place.
    Even with conservative estimates the amount of plastic saved in your calculations was quite staggering. Hopefully this article isn’t just be read by us but also some people in the various airlines who can make a difference.

    Keep up the good work and great content

    • Thank you Russell,

      That’s a great point you make. Many companies will only look at the bottom line when they make these kind of decisions but hopefully the benefits out-weigh the cost for most airlines.

      I definitely hope this article is read by some of the various decision makers, that would be the the dream and is another reason everyone should share this article 🙂

      Thanks for getting involved in the conversation.

      Simon

  11. Great article! Amazing reading that some airlines are taking action in reducing plastic waste! I hope more airlines will follow their path so that all airlines will soon start changing.
    I personally try to reduce plastic waste myself and for example to take my own take away mug wherever I go. I’ve never thought about taking mine on a flight! Great idea!
    This aspect shows that there is a lot we as passengers can do too to reduce plastic waste even on a flight. And if more people take their own mug or spoon then more airlines will realize that they need to change too – hopefully 🙂 thank you for this article. I look forward to your next one!

    • Hi Katie,

      I’m happy you enjoyed the article.

      I also hope more airlines will follow suit, but until then we just have to do what we can ourselves.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Simon

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