British Airways made a major announcement yesterday on the removal of single use plastics from its aircraft.
The airline has committed to trying to remove 700 tonnes annually of single-use plastics from its aircraft by the end of 2020.
To put this into context, we are talking about more than 250,000,000 individual items of plastic.
The airline has already removed 25 million items of single use plastics from its fleet, but this new commitment is a substantial step up.
Here are some of the changes that are coming or already in place:
- Swapped plastic stirrers with bamboo alternatives
- Reduced plastic packaging on Club World amenity kits
- Swapped plastic wrapping for all bedding and blankets for paper wrapping (currently being rolled out across all cabins)
- Removed plastic wrapping on headsets and instead placed these inside paper charity envelopes in World Traveller cabins
- Water bottles on board are made from 50% recycled plastic
- Removed inflight retail plastic bags
The target also includes finding alternatives to single-use plastic cutlery, tumblers, cups, toothpicks and butter packaging on board. The airline described the process of making these changes as complex, as the alternatives must be credibly sustainable, offer the same hygiene levels as their plastic counterparts and do not outweigh the items they replace.
Here is a suitcase made from recycled plastics that BA commissioned to mark the announcement!:
Sustainability is, of course, increasingly important.
On Tuesday I spoke at a conference of senior Virgin Atlantic managers, and one of the areas I touched on was sustainable amenity kits. Is it about time, for example, that passengers were given empty amenity kit bags and allowed to take only the items they actually want from a trolley that passes through the plane?
It also came up last October when I spoke at a Flybe staff event. I was on stage discussing loyalty with Flybe’s loyalty head, and one of the questions from the floor was about whether the planned scheme should be abandoned because it can, indirectly, lead to additional flying. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
Sustainability isn’t easy, however, and airline passengers are unlikely to fully understand what is involved. This is especially true with rules over waste and customs, which determine whether – for example – bottles of wine must be poured down the sink before landing or whether waste can be unloaded locally.
Even the logic of sustainability can be confusing. You might think, for example, that recycling paper is good. However, paper recycling is very energy intensive and, in the UK, much of our electricity is from gas fired power stations. If you throw your newspaper in the bin, the new paper which needs to be produced is made in Scandinavia, using trees from sustainable forests and using clean electricity which is generated from hydro electric dams. Which route is better? (See the comments below for discussion on the methane caused by decomposing paper, however.)
British Airways is doing what it can, of course, and the airline is also in the middle of extensive fleet changes which will dramatically improve the average fuel burn of its aircraft. These new initiatives are an important part of that process.
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