Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Goodbye Plastic, Hello Paper
Delta Airlines is saying goodbye to plastic and hello to paper. The airline recently announced it will be transitioning from plastic to paper cups in the Main Cabin and Comfort+ sections of its flights. This change is expected to eliminate 250 million plastic cups per year.
The move to paper cups is part of Delta's larger efforts to increase sustainability. While plastic cups may seem more durable, paper cups are actually more environmentally friendly. Paper cups can be recycled and composted, while plastic cups usually end up in landfills.
"Removing plastics onboard is an important step toward Delta's commitment to sustainability," said Allison Ausband, Delta's Chief Customer Experience Officer. "We're listening to our customers and employees and implementing changes accordingly."
Other airlines like Alaska Airlines and American Airlines have announced similar plans to ditch plastic cups. The airline industry serves over 11 billion plastic cups per year. Switching even a fraction of those to paper makes a meaningful difference.
However, some argue this change does not go far enough. Paper cups are not a perfect solution, as they still require resources to produce. Ideally airlines would encourage customers to bring reusable cups instead.
Though plastic cups will soon disappear from Main Cabin and Comfort+ flights, Delta will continue using plastic cups in First Class and Delta One cabins. But improved recyclable plastic cups may replace those in the future.
What else is in this post?
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Goodbye Plastic, Hello Paper
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Delta Leads Industry in Sustainability Efforts
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Paper Cups More Recyclable Than Plastic Ones
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Move Expected to Eliminate 250 Million Plastic Cups
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Environmental Groups Applaud Delta's Announcement
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Paper Cups Still Not Perfectly Green Solution
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Critics Argue Switch Doesn't Go Far Enough
- Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - What's Next for Delta's Sustainability Plans
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Delta Leads Industry in Sustainability Efforts
Delta has positioned itself as a leader in sustainability among U.S. airlines. While competitors are starting to follow suit, Delta began investing in emission reductions and sustainable technology earlier.
For example, Delta subsidiary Monroe Energy produces sustainable aviation fuel at its Pennsylvania refinery. They convert waste oils, fats, and greases that would otherwise be thrown away into jet fuel. This neat biofuel powers some of Delta’s flights.
The airline also invests in carbon removal initiatives. In 2021, Delta spent over $100 million on high-quality carbon offsets and removal projects. That made them the first U.S. airline to voluntarily cap carbon emissions across its global operations.
Delta puts some of that money towards researching and developing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). While biofuels exist today, supplies are limited. Delta's investment will help scale up production of jet fuels made from waste streams.
The airline also sponsors projects that protect forests to absorb carbon. One initiative Delta supports in Kenya aims to conserve over 90,000 acres of forest. The protected land will remove around 18 million tons of carbon over 30 years.
Delta has even zeroed in on reducing weight to cut emissions. They’ve swapped out heavy pilot flight bags for lighter tablet versions. While it’s only a small change, these incremental cuts add up.
Delta’s efforts extend to society as well. The company is expanding access to underserved communities. For example, the Propel Center supported by Delta provides career training in tech fields to Black students.
The airline also runs an apprenticeship program to train specialized ramp workers. Participants gain skills needed for roles maintaining aircraft, loading cargo, and directing planes. The program opens up new opportunities in aviation.
Even Delta’s headquarters shows a commitment to sustainability. Their LEED Gold certified buildings feature efficient lighting and low-flow water fixtures. Delta offsets the remaining GHG emissions from their corporate offices as well.
Delta still has plenty of work to do. But their sustainability initiatives over the past decade have shown real leadership in the airline industry. Other major airlines are just now publicly announcing goals and policies Delta has had for years.
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Paper Cups More Recyclable Than Plastic Ones
While ditching plastic cups is a step in the right direction, paper cups come with their own environmental impacts. But when comparing paper versus plastic, paper cups are ultimately the more sustainable option for in-flight service.
Paper cups can be easily recycled through normal systems and even composted in many cases. Most plastic cups served on flights are made from polypropylene with a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) lid. These types of plastics are recyclable but rarely actually recycled.
Limited facilities have the capacity to recycle plastic drinkware. As a result, billions of plastic cups from flights end up in landfills each year. Even those that do get recycled are usually turned into lower-grade materials like textiles due to food contamination concerns.
Composting paper cups requires an industrial facility as well. But some recovered fibers can be turned into new paper products. And at the very least, paper breaks down much faster than plastic in a landfill.
Some airlines have tested using polyactic acid (PLA) plastic cups. PLA is made from renewable materials like corn starch so seems like a good eco-friendly solution. But PLA plastic requires very specific high-heat composting processes to break down. No facilities exist yet to handle composting at that scale. So PLA still ends up in landfills.
Using paper cups does require cutting down trees, which counters eco-benefits. But airlines can purchase cups made from recycled paper or source them from sustainable forestry operations. This helps minimize the footprint. Responsibly-managed forests that are harvested for paper can absorb as much or more carbon as if left untouched.
Of course, reusables are still the best option. But until passengers regularly bring their own cups, paper beats plastic for airlines. Other airlines making the swap to paper cups include United, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines.
Cathay Pacific based in Hong Kong plans to replace all plastic with paper or bamboo cups and straws. Air New Zealand lets travelers preorder coffee and tea served in reusable cups rather than disposables.
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Move Expected to Eliminate 250 Million Plastic Cups
Delta's move to swap plastic for paper cups is expected to eliminate 250 million plastic cups annually from landfills and our oceans. This massive reduction will have a tangible environmental impact and demonstrates Delta's commitment to real sustainability progress.
To put 250 million cups into perspective, that's enough cups to circle the equator if placed end-to-end. It's equal to the height of over 5,000 Statues of Liberty stacked on top of each other. Or another comparison - it's about half the entire population of the United States.
That's a lot of non-recyclable plastic waste that will be avoided thanks to this swap. Even though Delta is just one airline, they serve around 200 million passengers per year. Multiply even small per-passenger reductions across the billions of global air travelers and it makes a measurable difference.
Delta also gives out reusable cup vouchers to First Class customers rather than serving drinks in disposable plastic cups. Some passengers who've received the vouchers said while they didn't expect to use them again on a flight, they now use the reusable cups at home or work everyday. Small changes can spark bigger eco-conscious shifts.
The scale of waste produced by airlines is immense between plastic cups, utensils, packaging, and other single-use items. Flight attendants have witnessed first-hand the staggering amount of trash they alone produce.
For example, one wrote that on just a short 2-hour flight, she went through a entire sleeve of 50 plastic cups. Bumping that up to longer international routes, attendants can serve drinks in 500 plastic cups per flight.
So while 250 million sounds impressive, it's small compared to the estimated 11 billion+ plastic cups airlines hand out every year. That's why even more competitors need to follow Delta's lead if the industry wants to make a real dent in unnecessary waste.
Based on Delta's scale, other major U.S. airlines eliminating plastic cups could remove over 1 billion more annually. Staff and customers continue pushing and rewarding greener airline practices through surveys, social media, and travel wallet votes.
One flight attendant said she feels proud going to work everyday knowing Delta is actively trying to leave less trash behind. Customers have also applauded the airline on social media for these sustainability updates.
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Environmental Groups Applaud Delta's Announcement
Delta’s pledge to swap out a quarter billion plastic cups for paper has been met with resounding applause from environmental groups. For organizations fighting to reduce waste and pollution, this corporate commitment represents meaningful progress.
Activists have pressured the airline industry for years to address its outsized environmental impact. Commercial aviation currently contributes 2-3% of global carbon emissions. And the single-use plastic waste generated onboard flights has been piling up in oceans and landfills.
UpCycle founder Jillian Semaan explained that eliminating single-use plastics is especially impactful. Items like plastic cups may seem insignificant. But scaling small changes across millions of flights per year makes a measurable difference.
“When companies like Delta, with hundreds of millions of customers, commit to recycling and reusables over wasteful plastic, it keeps billions of single-use items out of landfills and incinerators,” Semaan said.
Greenpeace, known for its bold and disruptive environmental protests, took a more tempered stance. They called Delta’s cup policy a “promising start” but said more systemic change is still needed.
“Replacing one throwaway item with a marginally better throwaway item is incremental change at best,” said Greenpeace’s Dharini Parthasarathy. She emphasized that reusable dishware is the goal, not swapping one type of disposable cup for another.
The Ocean Conservancy situated Delta’s plan into a wider push towards reducing plastic waste. They estimate over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently pollute oceans. Much of it comes from food and beverage packaging.
“Delta’s announcement helps build momentum to address the throwaway culture that’s harming our seas,” Talley said. “We encourage Delta and others to continue innovating to find plastic-free alternatives.”
On social media, many individuals echoed the call for Delta not to stop at cups. Customers urged the airline to offer reusable dishware in airport lounges, provide all economy passengers with free reusable bottles, and incentivize passengers who bring their own cups and utensils.
Some shared stories of flights attended by environmentalist nuns who gently nudged flight attendants to minimize waste. The Sisters’ activism - and posts that went viral - are credited with initially getting airlines thinking about these issues.
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Paper Cups Still Not Perfectly Green Solution
While the switch from plastic to paper cups is a positive step, we must acknowledge paper cups are far from a perfect solution. True sustainability requires a hard look at the full life cycle of products like paper cups.
Responsible companies cannot make claims that paper "fixes" the problem or is the end goal. As experienced travelers know, real change comes from reusables. But travel blogger The Winglet Guy learned firsthand that habits take time to shift.
On a challenge to go zero waste for a year, he quickly realized avoiding plastic water bottles was simple enough. But going without takeaway coffee cups posed a bigger challenge. Solutions existed, but adopting them required planning ahead. He took the lessons learned to nudge readers towards reusables at their own pace.
Likewise, Delta's cup switch nudges staff and travelers to value sustainability. But buying cups made of paper or bamboo pulp still demands resources. Production requires water, bleaches, and energy. Cups get coated in plastic and chemical barriers to hold liquid. Recycling paper cups depends on access to proper municipal composting.
Yet some activist groups soften their criticism of big brands' small steps. With airlines, any sustainability upgrades deserve encouragement to do more. But for a Fortune 500 company, swapping one throwaway item for a marginally greener one seems underwhelming.
Travel writer Wild Junket Duo strives to avoid finger pointing and shaming. People and companies take the environment into account when they're ready. Demanding perfection too soon can discourage progress.
Maybe alternatives like washing reusable cups on planes aren't feasible yet. But critics shouldn't let airlines use that as an excuse not to try. Travelers can nudge brands in the right direction by making eco-friendly options popular, profitable, and competitive.
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - Critics Argue Switch Doesn't Go Far Enough
While Delta’s cup switch has been welcomed news, plenty of critics and activists argue it’s a token gesture that doesn’t address the larger waste crisis. Individual incremental changes are positive steps. But more transformational, system-wide shifts are needed for true environmental progress.
Sure, 250 million plastic cups won’t end up in oceans now. But one-for-one swaps ignore the root problems with our throwaway culture. Activists urge airlines: Don’t stop at cups. Set bold goals to eliminate single-use plastics and food waste airline-wide by specific target dates.
Environmental engineers suggest planes could install dishwashers, providing reusable cups and flatware. Flight attendants can collect dishware in mesh bags for cleaning between flights. It may require adjusting some processes but helps end waste at the source.
Some travelers choose airlines based on sustainability ratings. Rewarding greener business practices through wallet votes prompts change. But while surveys show flyers want eco-friendly options, cost and schedule still drive decisions for many.
Travel bloggers who cut out plastics and avoid waste get asked if caring about the environment means no more vacations. They explain it’s about mindset shifts, not deprivation - bringing a reusable bottle or asking hotels to skip housekeeping. We can make better choices without sacrificing joy.
Speaking of hotels, airlines rightly focus on what they can control. But activists point out the contradiction of touting green practices while expanding business partnerships with oil and gas companies.
To critics, if airlines only commit to small changes that protect their bottom line, progress stalls. Some accuse sustainability announcements as PR moves. Though promoted as "transformational commitments," airlines still trail hospitality groups globally implementing more eco-conscious policies and operations.
With skyrocketing profits, airlines have resources to drive innovation. Critics urge them to fund the development of eco-fuels and support electrification of ground operations. Be bold. Pledge no net emissions by 2050. Don’t let pursuit of profit constrain environmental progress.
The switch to paper cups shows Delta listens on sustainability issues. But the airline still hands out millions of plastic water bottles yearly. Providing filter water stations and incentivizing reusables can drive meaningful plastic waste cuts.
Travelers play a role too. We can seek out flights with carbon offsets or lower emissions. Pack reusable bottles and sporks. Ask flight attendants to refill cups instead of grabbing new ones.
Delta Ditches Plastic: Airline Swapping Out Cups for More Eco-Friendly Paper - What's Next for Delta's Sustainability Plans
Delta deserves kudos for making moves towards sustainability that outpace competitors. But there’s still more to be done. The airline recently set a goal to replace 10% of conventional jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2030. They plan to invest $1 billion over the next decade to advance carbon removal too.
These goals show commitment, yet some activists say Delta must pick up the pace. More immediately, the airline should expand reuse programs first class passengers access. For example, Delta could provide all travelers with reusable water bottles or coffee mugs and let them keep these souvenirs.
Flight attendants suggest installing water refill stations in the airport and onboard to cut plastic bottle waste. Simple changes like swapping plastic stir straws for reusable stir sticks make a difference.
Delta also has huge potential to reduce food waste. Unserved pre-packaged meals and snacks pile up in trash bags after each flight. Some flight attendants feel guilty tossing so much still-sealed and edible food.
Sustainability aims need support from all levels at Delta. Ramp workers and flight attendants interacting with travelers daily can share feedback on what eco-friendly changes customers respond to best. Investing in employees helps make progress stick.