United Tries Compostable Cutlery, Recyclable Coffee Cups on Special ‘Eco’ Flight

Jun 12, 2019

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United Airlines put the spotlight on the environment last week with its “Flight for the Planet” Chicago O’Hare to Los Angeles. The airline used the flight to demonstrate measures the industry can take to be more sustainable, including carbon offsetting, using biofuel and a zero cabin waste effort.

Passengers aboard the flight received a meal service with disposable items switched with recyclable, compostable or reusable alternatives. Plastic lids were swapped for beeswax, and plastic cutlery was replaced with compostable forks and knives. The airline also debuted an all-paper hot-beverage cup, an industry first, according to United.

United’s “Eco-Skies” liveried Boeing 737-900ER was used for the one-time environmentally focused service, which averaged 77 passenger miles per gallon for the trip. The pilots attempted to keep the plane’s environmental impact even lower through single-engine taxiing and a continuous descent, both of which are methods to reduce fuel consumption and noise pollution.

The biofuel for the flight was purchased from World Energy, a fuel company based in Boston and one of United’s fuel partners. This biofuel generates 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional jet fuel over the course of a plane’s lifetime, the airline says. United currently uses a mix of biofuel and jet fuel to power many of its flights, including all departures from Los Angeles (LAX), its so-called “Eco-Hub” and the Flight for the Planet’s destination.

USA Today reports that the airline did not reach its zero waste goal for the flight event, as passengers created 14 pounds of garbage during their journey. Still, many airlines are trying to lower their environmental impact wherever possible, and efforts like United’s one-off flight demonstrate multiple routes the industry may take to adapt and become more green.

Related: Air France Wants to Eliminate 210 Million Single-Use Plastic Items by the End of 2019

Overall, United’s effort comes as the travel industry at large is looking to burnish its green credentials amid growing awareness about the impact of travel on the environment. Aside from biofuels, airlines and other travel companies have gone public with other environmentally friendly moves, such as an effort by some to phase out singe-use plastics.

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