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Airline Launches Plastic-Free Passenger Flights

Hopes are sky-high for eco-friendly air travel.
A tray from Hi Fly's flight without single-use plastic items.
Hi Fly
A tray from Hi Fly's flight without single-use plastic items.

Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly has launched the first of four trial flights without any single-use plastic products served on-board. Starting with a flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Natal, Brazil, Hi Fly aims to be the first plastic-free airline by the end of 2019.

During Hi Fly's trial flights, 700 passengers will eat with bamboo cutlery, using paper and compostable containers. If they're feeling ill, the vomit bags will be eco-friendly too.

Image of passenger enjoying in-flight breakfast on board of an international flight.
Cheryl Chan via Getty Images
Image of passenger enjoying in-flight breakfast on board of an international flight.

The company claims to be the first to offer zero-plastic commercial flights. However, Twitter users remembered when air travel included silverware, cloth napkins, and ceramic plates.

It's been decades since travellers were offered those reusable items; plastic cutlery was popularized following 9/11, the Daily Mail reports. And airplane food and cutlery have become notorious for being wrapped in large amounts of plastic, with little being recycled afterwards.

In a statement, Hi Fly president Paulo Mirpuri said the flight trials will help determine the effectiveness of plastic alternatives and the company expects "teething problems" in the early stages.

Waste from above, pollution in the oceans

Single-use packaging makes up 40 per cent of plastic produced globally. Around 800 million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into oceans every year, which the Guardian has compared to a garbage truck unloading into the sea once per minute. With this rate expected to increase, it's expected that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

Flyers produced 5.7 million tonnes of waste last year, Montreal-based airline industry group International Air Transport Association (IATA) told Australian Broadcasting News. That annual amount weighs nearly as much as the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Plastic bags floating by the marine.
Getty Images
Plastic bags floating by the marine.

As pressure to curb pollution grows, more airlines are turning away from disposable plastic.

Air New Zealand has already stopped serving several plastic items and has plans to gradually phase out plastic. Irish airline Ryanair has vowed to go plastic-free during flights and in its offices by 2023.

Alaska Airlines became the first US airline to ditch plastic straws in May. Other US airlines, such as Delta and American Airlines, have done the same.

Watch: Delta removes plastic straws from planes. Story continues below.

Plastic-free flights may become a mandatory reality for the airline industry. Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted in favour of banning the 10 most used single-use plastic products by 2021.

Although many Canadian companies and governments are eliminating single-use plastics, no Canadian airline has yet to eliminate plastic items.

Plastic ban criticism

Disability activists have noted that single-use plastic items such as straws don't have accessible alternatives. Some travellers have urged Hi Fly to carry plastic straws for passengers with disabilities who may request them.

Other drawbacks may exist. All catering waste coming from outside the European Union's (EU) borders is required by law to be incinerated or buried in a deep landfill. This legislation affects food and drinks served in flights that land in EU nations.

An IATA official told Aviation International News that the plastic ban "does not make a difference" for the environment if EU airlines are still required to incinerate all waste.

For eco-friendly passengers who can't wait for airline reform, plastic-free flying can still be achieved. Earth911 recommends bringing one's own reusable water bottle and requesting attendants to refill beverages with it.

Plastic-wrapped snacks can be avoided by bringing nuts and other finger foods in reusable containers. Reusable or compostable cutlery and bags would come in handy. (Although the eco-friendly vomit bag might be best as a one-time use).

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