Etihad Airways is now the first airline in the region to have operated a flight without any single-use plastics on board, in a bid to raise awareness of the effects of plastic pollution. Flight EY484 departed Abu Dhabi on 21 April, landing in Brisbane on 22 April, also known as Earth Day.
H.H. Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport said: “Sustainable and efficient transport is core to the government’s vision, and we commend Etihad’s proactivity in paving the way for sustainability and efficiency in air transportation. The investment in sustainable alternative fuels and the focus on emerging environmental concerns such as plastic pollution reaffirms Etihad’s commitment to the Abu Dhabi transport vision.”
The milestone flight is part of Etihad’s ongoing commitment to the environment, to go beyond Earth Day celebrations, and pledge to reduce single-use plastic usage by 80 per cent not just in-flight, but across the entire organisation by the end of 2022 with a range of initiatives on the horizon to make the airline one of the most environmentally-focussed carriers globally.
The airline tested the concept on one of the longest flights on the network, adding complexities not found on short-haul flights. Buzz, Etihad’s current supplier of amenity products, supported the project and have collaborated with the airline to provide sustainable amenity kits, eco-plush toys and award-winning eco-thread blankets. Buzz pioneered and produced the blankets out of recycled plastic bottles showcasing a new wave of up-cycling within the industry.
Etihad also worked with suppliers to ensure products were not wrapped in single-use plastics. For others, more innovative products had to be sourced including Cupffee’s, edible coffee cups, made entirely out of natural grain products.
But this one flight is just a drop in the ocean, and highlights the fact the industry still needs to take huge steps to make the industry more environmentally conscious. Last year, the United Nations called for global action to beat plastic pollution, stating that 400 million tonnes of plastics are produced every year, 63 per cent of which are intended for single-use. Governments around the world are starting to ban single-use plastics – something the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) advocates.
Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “There is a growing concern globally about the overuse of plastics which can take thousands of years to decompose. We discovered we could remove 27 million single-use plastic lids from our inflight service a year and, as a leading airline, it’s our responsibility to act on this, to challenge industry standards and work with suppliers who provide lower impact alternatives.”
The process was more complicated than they originally imagined. Each service element had to be looked at. Etihad identified over 95 single-use plastic products used across aircraft cabins, most of which were replaced with eco-friendly alternatives including cups, cutlery, dishes, headset bags, cart seals and toothbrushes. Once removed from this flight, Etihad prevented over 50 kilograms of plastics from being landfilled from just one flight. Challenging the passenger experience, where suitable replacements could not be sourced, these items were not loaded.
As a result of planning the Earth Day flight, Etihad additionally committed to remove up to 20 per cent of the single-use plastic items on board by 1 June 2019. By the end of this year, Etihad will have removed 100 tonnes of single-use plastics from its inflight service.
“We are making this promise not only for the environment but also for the wider community. Our guests and employees are largely responsible for facilitating this positive change, as they brought to our attention the effect plastics within our industry have on landfills, waterways and our oceans, contaminating our soil and water,” added Mr Douglas.
The airline isn’t just looking to the passenger experience to help reduce the use of plastic. Employees of Etihad’s Ramp Management team, based at Abu Dhabi International Airport, launched an initiative to reduce 1.6 million plastic bottles in a year. During the summer months, over 13,000 bottles are distributed daily. As of last month, 19-litre water dispensers were distributed across all break-room facilities, not only reducing single-use plastics but also saving the airline AED 800,000 yearly.
As part of Etihad’s commitment to sustainability, the airline will also work with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi on their marine environment clean-up, amongst other initiatives, to ensure environmental sustainability. Hopefully this, and other initiatives like it pave the way for a greener future, and more sustainable thinking for years to come.