Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard

Post originally Published January 31, 2024 || Last Updated January 31, 2024

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Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard - Reducing Single-Use Plastics

Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard

Single-use plastics have become an ubiquitous part of modern life, making their way into practically every industry and consumer product imaginable. From food packaging and grocery bags to straws and cutlery, these disposable plastics are incredibly convenient in the moment but create lasting environmental damage. That’s why the movement to reduce reliance on single-use plastics has gained so much momentum in recent years.

The numbers speak for themselves - it's estimated that over 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, with much of that being single-use items. Less than 10% of that plastic actually gets recycled, meaning the vast majority winds up languishing in landfills, littering oceans and waterways, or polluting pristine environments. And disposable plastic production is only expected to grow in the coming decades.

Many consumers are taking matters into their own hands by switching to reusable alternatives, be it travel mugs, produce bags, or metal straws. But large corporations also have an obligation to limit plastic waste stemming from their operations. The airline industry is certainly not exempt - by some estimates, major carriers generate over 5 million tons of cabin waste annually, much of that being plastic.
Some airlines have admirably confronted the plastic pollution crisis head-on. Back in 2018, Alaska Airlines swapped plastic stir straws for an eco-friendly birchwood option. The move eliminated 22 million straws from landfills each year. Delta Airlines also made waves when it replaced plastic wrapping for in-flight amenity kits with sustainable alternatives made from recycled material.

But Delta's latest plastic-reduction initiative takes things a significant step further. The airline recently announced it will transition from plastic to paper cups in the Main Cabin. The change, taking effect this summer, will eliminate an estimated 71 million pounds of plastic waste yearly. Not only are the new paper cups compostable, but they are sustainably sourced using the Forest Stewardship Council framework.

What else is in this post?

  1. Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard - Reducing Single-Use Plastics
  2. Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard - Compostable Cups Take Flight
  3. Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard - Sip Your Coffee Guilt-Free

Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard - Compostable Cups Take Flight

Delta's transition to paper cups in economy class cabins marks a seismic shift in how major airlines approach onboard waste. For decades, plastic cups have been the norm high above the clouds, their PET polymers offering durability and stackability. But amid growing alarm over plastic pollution, compostable paper cups now present a sustainable alternative that is taking flight.

Paper cups certainly aren't a novel concept on terra firma. Cafes and fast food joints have relied on paper cups for hot drinks for ages. But questionable liners rendered most variants unrecyclable, while lack of composting infrastructure meant many paper cups still wound up in the trash. That perception is now changing with new plant-based liners and greater access to industrial composting. Brands like EcoProducts offer compostable paper cups that biodegrade in commercial composters in just 90 days. No need for wishcycling - these cups can responsibly return to the earth.
For airlines, transitioning from plastic to paper requires significant logistical coordination. It's not as simple as swapping cups on beverage carts. Storage, transportation, sanitization and waste management procedures must all be aligned. But Delta isn't the only carrier banking on compostable cups. In 2019, American Airlines partnered with Better World Products to introduce eco-friendly DUNI compostable cups in several hub lounges, including LAX and JFK. The D-shaped cups even feature clever corrugated handles for grip and insulation. Composite lids and stir sticks made from renewable materials round out the package. American Airlines estimates the swap will prevent 2 million plastic cups from entering landfills each year.

Across the pond, British Airways made the switch to compostable packaging in 2020. Their new cups, produced by UK-based Vegware, are crafted from plant materials and lined with a thin bio-polymer film. Combined with wooden stir sticks, these compostable components are expected to eliminate over 15 million plastic items annually. Even the lids are made from renewable plant fibers.

Early data indicate customers approve of the compostable cup movement. In surveys, American Airlines lounge guests preferred the look, feel and taste experience of the new eco-options. And because today's paper cups maintain temperature and prevent leakage far better than earlier versions, user satisfaction hasn't taken a hit. Plant-based liners have come a long way.

Sip Sustainably: Delta Swaps Plastic for Paper Onboard - Sip Your Coffee Guilt-Free

For many travelers, few sensations beat sipping a hot cup of coffee as the plane levels off at cruising altitude. The aroma and flavors provide a soothing ritual, easing any unease that may come from hurtling through the sky in a metal tube. But amid growing alarm over single-use waste, conventional plastic coffee cups can leave a bad taste in passengers’ mouths - both figuratively and literally. Thankfully, compostable paper cups offer a sustainable solution to sip coffee guilt-free high above the clouds.

Experienced jetsetters report that swapping plastic for paper positively impacts the in-flight coffee experience. The tactile feel of a paper cup provides a more authentic, cafe-like vibe compared to industrial plastic ware. Plant-based liners have evolved tremendously, mimicking the insulative properties of plastic while remaining safely compostable. Many frequent flyers find coffee simply tastes better in a paper cup, free of any plastic aftertaste. And unlike their plastic counterparts, compostable cups won’t steadily accumulate scratches and odors that detract from beverages over time.
For airlines, transitioning to paper cups requires extensive logistical coordination to align storage, cleaning, waste management and all other processes. But investing the time and resources to make the switch pays dividends in long-term sustainability and passenger satisfaction.

Of course, reducing waste ultimately requires changes in consumer behavior as well. Asking for a paper cup but not using onboard recycling bins is missing the point. Likewise, paper lids and sleeves are also compostable, not trash. Travelers should inform flight attendants they are finished with compostable cups instead of leaving them behind. And upon landing, remember to dispose of paper cups in airport compost bins, now found in many hubs.
Some frequent flyers take matters into their own hands, bringing reusable mugs or cups onboard to maximize sustainability. Many TSA offices now publicly confirm reusable cups, even with liquid, are permitted through security checkpoints. Empty cups can easily be stored in carry-ons. Regional carrier Horizon Air embraces reusables, offering a discount on coffee and tea to customers who BYO mug. Larger airlines are gradually coming around to the concept too.

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