United Airlines experiments with plastic-free flight initiative

United Airlines took a major step toward cutting its company carbon footprint when Flight 310 from Chicago to Los Angeles went 100 percent plastic-free this week.

The current goal United has set is to reduce emissions and waste 50 percent by 2050. But it sounds like the company could do way better than that at a much quicker pace, which is a good thing considering scientists warn we have ten years to do something to prevent uncontrollable climate change.

As we should all be aware, plastic waste is the top threat to our environment and our own health right now as more and more single-use plastics end up in the ocean every day. On a United Airlines flight alone, 65 pounds of plastic waste is discarded at the end of the average flight, including that left by passengers.

But in an amazing experiment conducted by United Airlines on Wednesday, the company and the crew sought to achieve a plastic-free flight complete with healthy meals offered for free.

According to Nup Living:

The meals were served on compostable or recyclable plates; hot beverages were served in recyclable paper cups, an industry first, according to the airline. The cutlery was compostable. In first class, passengers’ meals were covered with a beeswax wrap instead of the usual plastic and there was no plastic ring around the napkin.

While Flight 310 may be the first flight to offer beverages in recyclable paper cups, an airport in the United Kingdom is offering reusable cups to all customers throughout the facility in an effort to cut down on plastic and paper waste.

But that’s not all United Airlines did to achieve a clean flight.

The Boeing 737-900 flight, with 161 passengers, was powered not just by traditional jet fuel; 30% was biofuel made from agricultural waste. United has been using biofuel, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 60%, since 2016 on flights at its Los Angeles International Airport hub, and last year biofuels accounted for 1/2 of 1% of the fuel mix there.

Pilots used single-engine taxi procedures instead of using both engines to reduce fuel burn on the runway. And as the plane neared LAX, they used a continuous descent approach instead of the usual stair-step approach, which also saves fuel and reduces noise.

The airline purchased carbon offsets to cover the remaining portion of flight where it didn’t achieve zero emissions.

The flight is being hailed as “the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind in the history of aviation.”

Not only did it cut down on fuel and noise pollution, it reduced its in-cabin waste to just 14 pounds left by passengers, proving that all airlines can stop using single-use plastics on their flights and become more environmentally friendly. While Republicans in Congress freak out that the Green New Deal will somehow ground all air travel, it appears airlines are taking steps to fall in line with the principles of the deal, even though it doesn’t actually say air transportation will end.

United Airlines president Scott Kirby has dreamed of helping to create a more sustainable world, and that’s why he is trying to change his own corner of it.

“It showcases our industry-leading commitment to becoming the most environmentally conscious airline in the world,” Kirby said. “Sustainability and our environment is something I’ve cared about for many years, going back to my days in college.”

It’s important to note that this is just a single flight for now. But it could become the gold-standard on every flight that every airline should seek to emulate. The best way consumers can encourage these changes is to reward it by choosing to travel with United Airlines, especially consumers who really care about the environment.

This was a successful flight, and the airline industry as a whole has no more excuses to delay these changes any longer. The “Flight for the Planet” should be every flight.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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