Plastic not so fantastic, judging by initiatives from leading airlines

Plastic not so fantastic, judging by initiatives from leading airlines

March 25, 2019
Marcia González

Two international airline organizations have recently highlighted their green credentials through two rather different attempts to assist in the global plastic waste crisis

Passengers flying with Austrian Airlines can be sure their plastic cups won’t end up polluting the environment, following the airline’s announcement of a partnership with oil and gas company OMV to produce new fuel and plastics from the waste.

Flight attendants have been separating plastic cups from the rest of the onboard waste since the end of 2018. And since the end of January, a disposal company has been cleaning and shredding them before delivering them to the ‘ReOil’ pilot plant at OMV’s Schwechat Refinery to be given a new lease of life in what is known as a thermal-cracking process. This produced synthetic crude oil from the waste, which is subsequently processed in the refinery into fuel and other raw materials for the plastics industry.

Team effort
“Our flight attendants have been making a key contribution for many years by recycling,” confirmed Vera Renner, vice president Cabin Operations. “I am delighted that – together with OMV – we have been able to take another crucial step towards this goal on the initiative of the crew members from Austrian Airlines’ ‘Fly greener’ team.”

“The exceptional properties of plastic as a material make it hard to imagine life without it,” added Thomas Gangl, OMV senior vice president, Refining & Petrochemicals. “But in the ReOil pilot plant, we are closing the circle and reducing waste.”

OMV has been exploring the potential of used plastics going back as far as 2011. After a test unit in the technology center of the Schwechat Refinery yielded successful research results, the significantly larger ReOil pilot plant started operations in early 2018. In terms of numbers, 100kg of used plastics can produce 100 liters of synthetic crude.

Singapore Airlines says ‘se la mat jalan’ to plastic
On the other side of the world, Singapore Airlines (SIA) is contributing to greener skies by further reducing food wastage on board, cutting back on the use of plastics for in-flight items.

“We are proud to have embarked on a new era of greater sustainability, with an enhanced focus on environmentally responsible practices on board that will significantly reduce our carbon footprint and improve the sustainable travel experience of our customers,” commented Yeoh Phee Teik, SIA’s senior vice president of Customer Experience.

Going further, the airline aims to become entirely plastic straw-free by September 2019. All plastic straws apart from kids’ straws have been removed on board since September 2018, although the children’s straws will be substituted with environmentally friendly paper straws. These changes will reduce about 820,000 plastic straws each year. The Airline also has plans to replace its current plastic swizzle sticks with wood-based ones by September 2019.

Additionally, from May 2019, SIA will also be replacing polybags from children’s toys with recyclable paper packaging.

Of course these initiatives from Austrian Airlines and Singapore Airlines follow hot on the heels of the aviation sector’s trailblazer in this field, Hi Fly, which became the first carrier to operate plastic-free flights last December. The Portuguese wet-lease carrier replaced plastic cutlery with bamboo and cups, spoons, salt and pepper shakers, packaging for bedding, dishes, individual butter pots, soft drinks bottles and toothbrushes with compostable alternatives crafted from recycled material.

“Seeing the reaction from passengers, full of smiles, and happy, even proud, to be involved, only confirms to us that this is the right direction for us,” enthused Hi Fly president Paulo Mirpuri, who will be providing an update on his company’s plastic-free strategy at the Plastics Free World Conference & Expo this June. “Our target of being plastic free by the end of the year seemd ambitious to many in our industry, but by believing in our project and working hard to make it happen, we can see that it is entirely achievable and our focus now will be to commit to our deadline.

The eco-alternatives used were plant-based catering disposables made from renewable, lower carbon or recycled materials, which can be composted along with food waste. Also, paper, card, PLA and CPLA, bamboo, chinaware, glass and stainless steel.

After the flights, excess food waste and packaging were collected and delivered to a licensed waste management operator where they were processed for energy production.

Bamboo cutlery was sanitized by Hi Fly’s catering arm, LSKY, to be reused. Glass bottles were returned to the supplier to be cleaned and refilled, while card and paper were grouped for collection and recycling. The total weight of plastic saved across the whole trial was 1,500kg.

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 will take place from Thursday 27 June to Friday 28 June, at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Frankfurt, Germany. To register for this highly focused and solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email

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