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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.

British Airways BA 777X 777 9X

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 (98)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Andrew says:

    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.

    • Anna says:

      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.

        • Rob says:

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

          • Anna says:

            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.

  • Anna says:

    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 ☹️

    • Anna says:

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

    • Mikeact says:

      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.

      • Anna says:

        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.

  • JP-MCO says:

    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.

  • Graham says:

    Where do you get the idea that new paper is needed for newspapers and has to come from Scandinavia?
    Our UK produced newsprint is 100% recycled and from UK materials.
    Spending 30 minutes online has a higher carbon footprint than a newspaper.

    • Kier says:

      Encouraging an industrial process to recycle paper is hardly a better option than encouraging the growth of managed forests to produce paper

  • Nick says:

    Stayed in the holiday inn express in Carson city last summer, everything for breakfast was disposable (plates, bowels, cups etc) me and my partner was shocked. Poor show on the part of IHG to allow chains to do this.

    • Doug M says:

      That is the norm in my experience in USA chain props like Hampton, HI etc. Even when they have recycle and regular bins everything is dumped in either bin.

    • Pedant says:


    • F99 says:

      The number of cups etc per person is also probably much higher in America than most other places, given the proportion of the population who are fatties

  • Andy S says:

    Used Avanti West Coast first class the other weekend, everything was served in single use packaging. Created so much unnecessary waste.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      but if all the waste was collected and correctly recycled then whats the issue?

      The issue with airline waste is that very little of it is actually recycled and most disposed of by incineration

      There has to be balance – argue with me that my plastic straw is bad for the environment but I know using 2 crap paper straws for each drink is far worse than using my single plastic straw for 5-6 drinks and it being correctly disposed of.

      • Callum says:

        It’s about time people woke up and realised they live in a society and everything isn’t all about them…

        You reuse your plastic straw 6 times (though why any healthy adult needs a straw in the first place is beyond me!)? So what? The vast majority are used once then not recycled.

        I’m sick of seeing the same argument with bags as well. “But I reused my single use bag as a bin liner”. Congratulations, have a medal. The vast majority are not reused.

        • Nick_C says:

          “I’m sick of seeing the same argument with bags as well. “But I reused my single use bag as a bin liner”. Congratulations, have a medal. The vast majority are not reused.”

          Any evidence to support that claim? I used to use “Single Use Carrier Bags” several times for shopping, before using them as bin bags. From my experience of working at a Waste Transfer Station, I know that a lot of people used SUCBs to dispose of their residual waste. A lot were also left in the special recycling bins at supermarkets.

          Many people who no longer use SUCBs now buy bin bags.

          And bags for life don’t last anywhere near a lifetime.

          • Callum says:

            After the van, bin bag sales increased by 11 million and single use bag use dropped by 284 million. Do the maths!

            Though if people actually cared about the environment instead of just pretending, there wouldnt need to be any plastic bin bags used. It’s not that difficult to reduce your non-recyclable waste to very little, which you can collect in a non plastic bag.

          • Callum says:

            I should clarify that applied to Wales, and I misspoke about bin liners – that was for small carrier bag sized bags. There was no increase in bin liner sales.

            Because you should never believe what a random person claims, look for the Wrap analysis on it.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Depends what you are drinking most ice based cocktails are extremely difficult to drink without one for example.

          Point is plastics in themselves are not bad and replacing it all with paper isn’t the answer. Educate the users to dispose of things responsibly and not treat life as everything is throw away

          • Callum says:

            You are sorely mistaken if you think plastic is recycled effectively… Only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled and that shows no signs of changing. Even if you put your plastic in a recycling bin in the UK there’s a huge chance it will just be dumped in landfill or incinerated. There is virtually no market for recycled plastic. Not to mention, plastic straws are not recyclable and plastic bags are hard to recycle.

            No-one ever says that plastic is inherently bad so I have no idea why you’ve chosen to rebut that point. Nor is the only alternative to plastic paper.

          • Callum says:

            NickC – Granted plastic bottles are more recyclable, but that link doesn’t indicate to me there’s a decent market – quite the opposite in fact.

            The fact recovered plastic is selling for much less than new plastic yet vast quantities of plastic are still being either landfilled or dumped in developing countries strongly suggests that either manufacturers don’t want it or the recycling costs don’t produce enough profit margin. It also highlights that we are recycling less than the year before – why, if there’s a market?

        • Lady London says:

          I guess we’re all different @Callum.

          With some drinks using a straw can be like kissing someone compared to straight out of the glass being more like mouth to mouth resuscitation. Variations of course depending on whether your straw is plastic (most resilient and therefore can last longer), paper which sometimes folds too soon, or titanium which resists completely so is not so pleasurable.

          FWIW I have the Snow Peak titanium straw for quite a few years now. It’s practical for avoiding contact whilst drinking from a can that a dog may have licked but that’s about it.

  • Ned says:


    Did anyone get their clubcard bonus from the Pet Insurance promotion?


    • Lady London says:

      People reported they did in the past few days and that this was pretty much 35 days as promised, after they signed up

    • Erico1875 says:

      Not so far. Its been over a month. I will give it another week

    • Graeme says:

      Points for the second cat appeared today. 41 days.

    • Rui N. says:

      Received mine today. Signed up a few days after the promotion came online.

  • Carson City says:

    I read a report about sustainability recently (I work in consumer packaged goods industry). When you consider the entire ecological footprint of a paper bag, it would have to be used 40 odd times to reduce its footprint to the equivalent of a plastic bag. Plastic is an incredibly hygienic, cheap, and lightweight material. If it is disposed of properly, I don’t think there’s a superior material for many applications. People need to apply their cognitive power to this issue and appreciate that blanket bans/ideas are almost always stupid.

    • Chris says:

      Spot on.

      • Sussex Bantam says:

        You mean we’re not going to save the world by getting rid of plastic straws ??

    • RussellH says:

      ” Plastic is an incredibly hygienic, cheap, and lightweight material. If it is disposed of properly, I don’t think there’s a superior material for many applications.”

      Plastics are certainly both hygenic and lightweight materials. They are very strong for their weight and they are pretty indestructible. When properly chosen they do not corrode or degrade. All of which makes them ideal materials for many purposes. But their indestructibility is their weak point too. When they are disposed of they do not decay, though they may break up into ever smaller pieces.

      They are cheap because the lifetime cost is not considered – no price is put upon the costs of disposal / recycling / use for something else. If the price of all plastics, and other materials as well for that matter, included the cost of their disposal, then the use of flimsy, single use plastics would soon become too high compared with plastics products designed to be used again and again.

    • Callum says:

      This has been HUGELY publicised for what, a decade now? How on Earth do people STILL not get it?

      Switching to paper bags has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with emissions (which is where the alleged bigger ecological impact comes in – though it’s a dishonest claim to make given it’s incredibly subjective). Plastic pollution kills millions of animals and is infecting every environment on the planet. It’s most likely in the water you’re drinking right now, being absorbed into your body as we speak.

      I’m sick to death of otherwise smart people completely ignoring what every expert has to say on the matter and instead deciding to not only base their entire philosophy on some ill-thought out “junk science”, but promote it and encourage others to do the same. Ignorance is the biggest problem humanity faces as a species nowadays.

      • Nick_C says:

        Disposing of plastic waste in waterways is stupid. But plastics can be disposed of cleanly by incineration with energy recovery.

        And single use plastics reduce food waste.

      • Andrew says:

        What really annoys me is how groups manipulate weak minded people like yourself into promulgating falsehoods or irrelevant content.

        The local Greens keep lying about our council’s waste “going to landfill”. It doesn’t. It gets incinerated. Then you see the Green Vegan evangelist cohort wearing synthetic fibre (that enter the water system when washed) rather than good natural wool, cotton and fur.

        Euthanasia is key to managing emissions. A relative sadly had a brain injury. Nutrients are pumped into his stomach, and they are cathed and delivered into a nappy at the other end. No speech, eyes open once every few months.
        Round the clock care for 10 years. More plastic aprons and gloves than you can count. The carbon cost of keeping people alive unnecessarily is far greater than the cost of travel.

        My living will withdraws the consent to have antibiotics administered 6 months after I’m incapable of specifically consenting. Only pain killers thereafter. Pneumonia will be my and the planet’s friend.

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