British Airways to remove most single-use plastics from its aircraft during 2020

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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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Comments

  1. mr_jetlag says:

    currently in the US, where every hotel room has the ridiculous Keurigs with disposable cups and wrapped, single use stirrers. America and China will smother the earth in carbon and rubbish. Sadly no amount of BA initiatives will prevent this.

    • And all you’ll ever see in the lobby/breakfast rooms are massive bins for general waste, where all the paper, plastic and food waste end up together.

      They’re on a mission clearly to undo…

    • The US really frustrates me, I stayed in an Aloft recently that had disposable plates, cutlery, glasses and coffee cups for the breakfast. And in our US offices colleagues look confused if you suggest using mugs for coffee.

      But I reject any implication that this means we shouldn’t make an effort.

      • Think you self fortunate to be working in the USA , easy solution return to whence you came , thousans will swap places with you .

        • Really, how is that helpful? The US’s general attitude towards climate change should be a concern to all.

        • I was on holiday there and stayed a night in a Motel. We were also horrified by the amount of plastic waste too. It’s unnecessary.

    • And right now millions of Americans are going on about how bad China is and that there’s no point doing anything until they stop first. I suspect the vast majority of people using that argument don’t actually care – it’s just used as an excuse because they can’t be bothered to do anything (no insinuations of your personal motive for writing that, I obviously have no idea!).

      Why on Earth you’d expect BA initiatives to impact American waste disposal I have no idea, but it’s completely and utterly irrelevant whether it does or doesn’t. Removing 250 million pieces of plastic per year IS significant enough to make a difference, and once the world reaches a critical mass then the US will have no choice but to join in or suffer the consequences.

      • NigelthePensioner says:

        The trouble is Callum, that a critical mass cannot be achieved without China, India and the US of A taking a lead. Looking at a map of the world and taking the size of Western (not including Central) Europe, then you will never achieve your critical mass. Its laudable to try, I dont knock that, but it is futile, you and me paying “green taxes” that Chancellors dream up, on life’s essentials with the pretext that it will in any way “save the planet”. We are simply too small a land mass to make any meaningful difference on our own, and I’m afraid any difference as part of a Western European initiative. The lead needs to come from the worst offenders and it doesnt look like that will happen anytime soon if we continue to crave cheap replica goods from Amazon and ebay……..sorry all. Anyway have a great day! Not long til Dallas trip 😁.

        • Oh! Matron! says:

          Nigel’s right. Despite the ban on plastic bags, my time in India showed that they were everywhere, most saddening in the waterways of Alappuzha

          Why stuff has to be wrapped in plastic for hygiene reasons is laughable, especially when I’m then going to sit in a chair that a thousand smelly butts have previously sat in.

          It’s a choice. We can do it.

          PS: Don’t get me started on Pret where ALL of it’s cutlery is disposable: the new wooden spoons are so flat, it takes you 14 years to eat a soup

          • Then drink the soup from the cup and don’t bother with the spoon.

          • Many places in India have banned plastic bags long before the west did. And if you’re wondering yes they do get followed. When I’ve visited my family in India and stayed for a month, every shop gives cloth bags like the type in Urban outfitters. And you have the remember it’s the per capita waste that should be compared. Blaming India or China alone when an average American causes the most emissions per person in the world is silly.

          • Lady London says:

            Can we talk about the incredibly low number of miles per gallon of American vehicles vs European ones? Especially given the size of the vehicles (like a suburban or city guy with no need for it has a massive pickup with a 7L V8 engine or whatever…) I am wondering why the American public tolerates such a poor return on utilisation of gas.

          • LL – fuel prices are so low in the US compared to Europe, I don’t think mpg comes into the equation when buying a car!

          • How many ‘pops’ have been discharged into each seat. Am positive someone could analyse this statistic?

          • Lady London says:

            the wooden spoons are biodegradable / compostable though.

            even if eating soup with them feels like chalk squeak on blackboard

          • Lady London says:

            A gas chromatograph might give a reading. not sure if it would work hovered over British Airways seats on a supposedly just-cleaned plane though.

        • Shifting the production of western consumables to China and then blaming China for carbon emissions. Nice.

        • Thank you for perfectly illustrating my point.

  2. There’s a free exhibition on the issue of waste in air travel at the Design Museum on High Street Kensington, on through to Sunday 1 March.

  3. memesweeper says:

    I took a Virgin upper class flight a few weeks ago and the effort they’d made to strip plastic out from amenities kits was obvious — and laudable. Well done BA in trying to make the same effort

  4. I live in Finland and surrounded by trees which eventually get turned into paper destined for countries like the UK but I worked in the USA a lot last year and it’s heart-breaking to see how much waste they produce. At restaurants inside offices the lunch is put into a box which is thrown away 30 minutes later. The knives and forks are plastic and thrown away after use. The box is put in a bag which is thrown away after use. Only the tray you put your meal on is reused.
    In Finland all bottles have a deposit and a “reverse vending machine” at the supermarket takes in the bottles gives you back the deposit (I have not thrown a bottle away in 20 years). In California the bottles have a deposit but the system to give you the money back failed so it’s just a tax on the bottle – no way to claim the “deposit” back and the bottles cannot be returned to shops.

    • That doesn’t only happen in office restaurants but every food court and fast food establishment in every shopping mall in every town or city in the US. Heartbreaking is the perfect word to describe it.

      It is staggering how much waste they create.

      • It’s all about ‘convenience’ – no washing up/breakages, less staff required etc. Has no-one ever noticed how much food waste there is in US diners etc?
        They don’t ‘do’ eco in (most of) the US, they simply aren’t interested in (what they would deem) such clap-trap. It’s all about making a fast buck, acquiring a big house – a wife with big …… and a big car.
        Thus the earlier “7L V8 engines” analogy was spot on. Not a care in the world.
        To be fair, for many it will simply be a matter of ignorance rather than arrogance.

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      We used to have a very successful deposit on bottles in the UK when I were a kid… And, if you were lazy, there was always some enterprising souls who would do it on your behalf

      Now the excuse is: It’s too complex

      • Rubbish, if you pardon the pun. What is complex about it? These machines work well in Scandinavia, even at Tesco in Czechia! Why does the UK think they are less advanced, still puzzles me

      • I lived in Germany and all the bottles you bought added a deposit on it which you could get back when you took it to the shop. Everyone bought their bottles in crates and took the crate back full of empties. There are special machines which you put the crate onto which calculates what you’re owed and you get the money back. Everyone does it there.

        • RussellH says:

          I lived in Switzerland and much the same applied back then. I am also a frequent visitor to Germany and Belgium, where in the past, you took your empties to a human being who quickly sorted them out and gave you a chit for your refund.
          I find the new machines a retrograde step, because they read the bar code on the label to check if the bottle was sold there – if not the bottle gets rejected, you do not get your money back and you probably throw your bottle in the bin.
          It used to be the case that there were standard re-usable glass bottles for mineral waters, beer and wine (1 l), that any shop would accept, but these seem now to have disappeared.
          Germany now also has the somewhat odd system of a minimum €0,25 deposit on single use bottles – normally PET – while re-usable beer bottles are only €0,10.
          For visitors to the country the deposit on single use bottles can be offputting. We found lemon ice-tea (not found in our local supermarkets) selling at €0,49 + €0,25 in German Lidl. 5 miles west in the Netherlands exactly the same stuff in Lidl was €0,45 and no deposit.

          • Concerto says:

            I am one of those who finds that stupid German system a waste of time, money and energy and wish they would get rid of it. The Swiss had the good sense to stop it in 1999. Not in the slightest convinced that bottle deposits help in any way.

          • Ironically, as per the economist recently, the recycling system in Germany has had some unintended consequences (like most things): the earnings from keeping the deposits from unreturned bottles seem to have discouraged producers from switching to more sustainable packaging.

      • kiran_mk2 says:

        One of the Tescos near me has reverse vending machines for plastic bottles – 10p per bottle voucher or donation to charity. All ours get bundled up and taken about once a month.

      • It is coming back in Scotland – https://depositreturnscheme.zerowastescotland.org.uk/

        Should be going lice in 2021

  5. The biggest problem with throwing newspaper in the bin is that it will go into landfill and decompose producing methane which is 30 times worse than C02 in terms of greenhouse gas.

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      Was sat on the bus last night looking at the copies of the metro, thinking the same thing

  6. “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 (newly planted trees absorb more CO2 than mature trees) and using clean electricity which is generated from hydro electric dams. Which route is better?”

    Every time the media spit out these gobbetsuuuu, they feed the climate change denyers and reinforce the beliefs of many consumers that recycling is a waste of time.

    “In favour of recycling is the fact that paper mills use toxic compounds such as toluene, methanol and formaldehyde. A report by the US Environmental Protection Agency states that paper mills are among the worst polluters of any industry in the US. Recycling causes 35 per cent less water pollution and 74 per cent less air pollution than making new paper. Recycling a tonne of newspaper also eliminates 3m³ of landfill. As paper decomposes in the ground it produces methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. On balance it seems that recycling paper is still much better than producing it from fresh pulp.”

    https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/is-recycling-paper-bad-for-the-environment/

    But replacing plastic products with paper ones can be a retrograde step also, as paper packaging is heavier and larger than plastic. There’s nothing wrong with plastic – if it is disposed of properly. Studies have shown that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than paper bags.

    How much fossil fuel will you burn importing virgin paper from Sweden? What will those ships be carrying on the return journey?

  7. When my daughter graduated a few years ago and was sure she wanted a sustainability career it looked very niche. There was only one obvious UK grad scheme. Just a couple of years later and the world has really woken up. Last year a friend went for a FInance Director job at an insurance company and his interview presentation had to be on sustainability. My daughter now has a sustainability specialist role with S&P. To be fair she always had recycling on the agenda when running family meetings as a child.

    • Lady London says:

      If it was the company I’m thinking of then the Sustainability business unit had the largest number of applications from graduates by far. Internally if anyone needed moving and was given a choice more than half of existing staff in that situation seemed to express a preference to move to the Sustainability part of the business. I only know this from about 10 years ago and am sure the wish to do something about this problem has gotten even more popular since.

  8. Re Flybe: is this the reason why their new loyalty programme is unduly delayed?

    • Because they are somewhere close to going bust and trying to persuade government to “support” them.

      Loyalty programs cost money, at least in the short term, the optics of launching one at the moment aren’t good and management have better things to be doing.

      • But they keep saying they are about to launch it! And shoosh on ‘going bust’ talks – I have a flight booked with them in August!

    • No! I think they want to unveil a lot of things at once. It is possible it doesn’t happen until the official rebrand.

  9. Virgin actually tried the pick n mix amenity kit concept in the late 2000s – I think largely as a cost-cutting measure: a cardboard envelope with socks, eye mask and earplugs called a “snooze pack” was left at your seat and a basket of small lotions, lip balm and toothbrushes/paste were at the bar for you to help yourself to. I think Qatar pitch it right, investing in a reasonably high quality Brics bag, but with minimal contents – with further items in the washrooms.

    • When flying in J on BA the only amenity I really use is the toothpaste and toothbrush, I can’t imagine many people need multiple mini tubes of generic moisturiser though. However, if I could choose my own Elemis products in F that would be a different matter!

      • MrHandBaggageOnly says:

        It’s interesting, as I’ve always thought the toothbrush and toothpaste were one of the most unnecessary items in an amenity kit, as I assumed that everyone had theirs with them. After my passport, wallet and phone, I’d put my toothbrush and toothpaste as my next most important items to not leave the house without. It would be perfectly easy for airlines to have a few spares on-board (as the hotels do) for anyone who was desperate.

        • the_real_a says:

          My washbag generally isn’t in my hand luggage. Toothbrush is the only thing i use – but honestly would probably take two, i have no need for the other product. Oh and a Pen…. because i have terrible luck in losing and breaking pens.

        • I ALWAYS take the toothbrush – they come in handy for 1-nighters when I don’t want to lug a full tube with me.

          • Exactly – who wants to be always packing a 100ml tube of toothpaste? Takes up far to much room in one’s ziplock bag!

        • RussellH says:

          The toothbrush + toothpaste combination packs are very popular at the local foodbank – they hand them out to the homeless who, I am told, really appreciate them.

  10. We’re lucky enough to be able to visit Grand Cayman each year and always take our own reusable mugs and shopping bags. Sadly we are beginning to question whether it’s worth the exorbitant prices any more as every year it look more and more like a rubbish dump due to (mainly US) tourists leaving their single-use trash in public places (poolside, beach etc), apparently under the impression that the local fairies will clear up after them. The government seems very reluctant to take any action which might cause some slight inconvenience to dollar-waving visitors ☹️

    • For some really depressing evidence of this, check out “Plastic Free Cayman” on Facebook.

    • No worse than the UK…travel up and down on any Motorway, A Road etc., and what do you see ? Rubbish galore …… pretty disgusting and very annoying.

      • Not really – our beaches and public spaces are pristine compared with the horrendous state of the Caymanian sites which aren’t proactively managed by the hotels. Some of it washes up from other islands (especially Cuba), but a lot bares the names of local hotels and shops.

  11. OT but very good deals from Paris, Nice and Milan on Etihad and Qatar to the Maldives from last week in May to mid December. £1450 return! There’s not even any blockouts over the summer holidays.

    https://www.kayak.com/flights/PAR-MLE/2020-09-11/2020-09-18/business?sort=bestflight_a

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