British Airways to remove 700 tonnes of single-use plastic from flights

Helen Coffey
British Airways is celebrating the announcement with a specially commissioned sculpture: British Airways

British Airways has announced it will eradicate 700 tonnes of single-use plastic from its flights during 2020.

The airline said it planned to get rid of more than a billion single-use plastic items, which would fill the equivalent of more than 30,000 suitcases.

BA had already set out to remove 90 tonnes-worth of single-use plastic, or 25 million items, but it will now scale up its ambitions by more than 700 per cent.

As many single-use plastic items as possible will be swapped for more sustainable alternatives, such as recyclable or reusable items.

These include trading plastic stirrers for bamboo alternatives; reducing plastic packaging on Club World amenity kits; swapping plastic wrapping for all bedding and blankets for paper wrapping; removing plastic wrapping on headsets and putting them inside paper charity envelopes in World Traveller cabins instead; removing inflight retail plastic bags; and using water bottles made from 50 per cent recycled plastic.

Single-use plastic cutlery, tumblers, cups, toothpicks and butter packaging are also being assessed to see if alternatives can be found.

The task is made more complex, according to execs, due to the fact that the alternative products must be credibly sustainable, offer the same hygiene levels as their plastic counterparts and not outweigh the items they replace. The last point is particularly important as more weight onboard equals more fuel used, resulting in higher emissions and a less efficient flight.

“Our customers have told us that they want to see these changes and we’re pleased to have made real strides in our journey to becoming more sustainable,” said Kate Tanner, British Airways’ customer experience manager.

“We’ve spent a long time researching how to make sustainable changes without causing environmental impact elsewhere. For instance, we are looking at the amount of water and detergent needed to wash metal cutlery and how often it needs to be replaced versus using plastic or bamboo cutlery.

“We’ve looked at how we ensure blankets and other items can be kept clean without a plastic covering and the lifespan of all the new items compared to the existing ones. Some potential replacement options may be heavier, which would then have an impact on the weight of the aircraft and therefore on our emissions, so we must ensure we are making the right choices on all replacements.”

Eco-artist Sarah Turner has been commissioned to mark the new goal with a giant sculpture of a suitcase made from a thousand pieces of waste plastic, including 160 spoons, plastic stirrers, drinks lids, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, catering dishes and covers and bottles. It will be displayed at British Airways’ Headquarters near Heathrow.

The airline has made much of its green credentials of late, citing its commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, its offsetting of carbon emissions for all flights within the UK since January this year, and its investment in new, more fuel-efficient aircraft and in the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

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