American Airlines switches away from plastic straws to cut waste

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The world’s largest airline is ditching plastic straws in favour of more sustainable alternatives.

American Airlines, which flies around 200 million passengers a year, will from this month eliminate the use of plastic straws on all planes and within its lounges.

Biodegradable straws and bamboo stir sticks will be used instead, which the airline estimates will remove 71,000 pounds of plastic each year. Further commitments to move to more sustainable cutlery will also be made, although precise details weren’t made.

“We're very excited and proud to share this initiative with our team members and customers,” said Jill Surdek, Vice President, Flight Service. “We’re cognizant of our impact on the environment and we remain committed to doing our part to sustain the planet for future generations of travelers.”

American Airlines has a history of implementing modest sustainability initiatives across its global business. Its recycling programme dates back to the late 1980s and now reuses hundreds of thousands of aluminium each year. In 2015, it also switched from using plastic foam cups to paper cups.

The aviation industry is a major consumer of plastics and generated an estimated 5.2 million tonnes in 2016, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In-flight food and drinks create the bulk of this plastic and many airlines have been slow to adopt thorough policies to prevent the waste from ending up in landfill.

Earlier this year, Irish airline Ryanair made a pledge to eliminate all non-recyclable plastic within five years. The low-cost carrier will instead make the switch to biodegradable cups, wooden cutlery and paper packaging during flights.

This waste is not only damaging to the environment, but reportedly costs the industry over $500 million each year, according to the IATA.

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