Can airlines switching out to compostable cups make a dent in their environmental impact?


Eliminating seven million pounds of plastic sounds like an awful lot, but if you zoom out, it’s ultimately a small piece of the industry’s waste problem. In 2016, passengers produced about 5.7 million tons of cabin waste, much of which is single-use plastic in the form of cups, headsets, wrappers for blankets and pillows, food packaging, and so on. If you convert Delta’s cup savings into the same metric, 3,500 tons of reduced waste sounds an awful lot smaller compared to the bigger issue.

Delta is just one airline though, and others are also working toward reducing their landfill contributions. In early 2023, Alaska Airlines became the first US airline to eliminate plastic cups and water bottles, switching to paper and boxed water, respectively. Alaska Airlines estimated at the time that the move saved them 2.2 million pounds—or 1,100 tons—of plastic waste per year. Again, it’s a relatively small shift compared to the overall problem, but every bit counts. And if every airline eliminated plastic cups, well, then we’d really start to get somewhere.



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