Beyond the Straw: Delta Removes Single-use Plastics Onboard, in Clubs

Youth Advisory Council and eco-friendly alternatives add to the global airline's ongoing, industry-leading sustainability work​

DELTA AIRLINES STRAWS

Delta Air Lines is continuing the removal of a variety of single-use plastic items, including stir sticks, wrappers, utensils and straws from its aircraft and Delta Sky Clubs. The ongoing effort comes on the heels of the global airline’s leading move to remove plastic wrap from international Main Cabin cutlery in April, and is expected to eliminate more than 300,000 pounds in plastic waste annually – that’s more than the weight of two Boeing 757 aircraft.

Other moves contributing to Delta’s long-time sustainability efforts include the elimination of unnecessary plastic wrapping from Delta One amenity kits, and reducing Styrofoam in the cafeterias at Delta’s Atlanta headquarters in favor of compostable and/or reusable alternatives. Delta’s Minneapolis office campus ditched Styrofo am altogether in 2015.

Additionally, Delta has formed a Youth Advisory Council to help guide the airline’s efforts to minimize the use of single-use plastics and support other sustainability initiatives. Initial members include Georgia natives Carter and Olivia Ries, who founded One More Generation, and California resident Shelby O’Neil, who founded Jr Ocean Guardians. Carter, Olivia and Shelby have been instrumental over the past year in driving sustainability efforts on Delta’s campuses, including No-Straw November during which they spoke to employees about the importance of reducing single-use plastics. Emma Kavanaugh, founder and president of a Surfrider Youth Club at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida will join the trio as an initial member, while a partnership with the Captain Planet Foundation will seek additional members through an application process launching in November that seeks diversity in geographic location and eco-passions. The council will complement the airline’s employee-led GreenUp group that connects with Delta employees to find meaningful ways for the airline to positively impact the environment.

“We’re looking broadly at how we can adjust our sourcing and behaviors to have greater impact on the local and global communities where we live, work and serve,” said Christine Boucher, Managing Director – Global Environment, Sustainability & Compliance. “Reducing single-use plastics is a natural extension of the work we’ve been doing for years to lead the industry in efforts to reduce our impact on the environment, and we’re looking forward to working with young thought leaders like Carter, Emma, Olivia and Shelby to build an even more creative and impactful approach.”

Delta customers will already notice red plastic straws and stir sticks being replaced in Delta Sky Clubs with environmentally friendly bamboo drink stirrers and birch stir sticks, and customers onboard will see the elimination of red plastic straws and stir sticks in favor of the same alternatives starting in mid-2019. Together, the changes will eliminate more than 183 million plastic straws and stir sticks from Delta’s aircraft and clubs. Compostable straws will be available in clubs for customers upon request.

Delta Sky Clubs have also started moving toward compostable alternatives for service ware. Delta has partnered with the airports in Seattle and Minneapolis since 2016 and 2017, respectively, to help manage those clubs’ compostable waste, and the airline is now identifying the best ways to expand composting at all 51 airports that feature its clubs.

Customers are already starting to see these sustainable changes happening at Delta Sky Clubs:

  • Non-compostable plates, utensils, bowls and buffet dishware are currently being replaced with compostable alternatives (started in Seattle in 2016)
  • Plastic stir sticks are currently being replaced with bamboo stirrers for cold beverages, birch wood stirrers for hot beverages
  • Plastic straws are currently being replaced with bamboo stirrers for cold beverages, birch wood stirrers for hot beverages (compostable straws are available upon request).

Customers can watch for these sustainable improvements coming to their onboard Delta experience starting in mid-2019:

  • Delta One Tumi amenity kits will no longer have outer plastic wrappers
  • Plastic stir sticks are being replaced with bamboo stirrers for cold beverages, birch wood stirrers for hot beverages.
  • Plastic straws are being replaced with bamboo stirrers for cold beverages, birch wood stirrers for hot beverages.

As of April 2018, international Main Cabin plastic-wrapped utensils no longer have an outer plastic wrapper and are rolled in a napkin instead.

Delta’s move to reduce unnecessary single-use plastics is part of its industry-leading sustainability strategy that drove a route analysis to better align the amount of food, beverage and other items on board with customer demand, resulting in significant reductions in waste and emissions. It also positioned Delta as the first U.S. airline to offer carbon offsets to customers and the only airline to voluntarily cap carbon emissions at 2012 levels by purchasing carbon offsets – more than 2.5 million in 2017 alone, and almost 9 million carbon offsets since it started. Delta was the first U.S. airline to recycle aluminum cans, plastic bottles and cups, newspapers and magazines from aircraft and has recycled more than 3 million pounds of aluminum from onboard waste – equivalent to 22 Boeing 747s – over 10 years. The funds from that program and recycling oil and scrap metal in Tech Ops have been used to construct 12 of the 264 homes Delta has built with Habitat for Humanity globally. In 2018 Delta sought out opportunities to upcycle its frontline uniforms as part of its new uniform launch, and developed first-of-their-kind partnerships with Duke University Athletics and the Seattle Seahawks to offset travel with local benefits. These kinds of efforts and more speak to why Delta was selected as Keep America Beautiful’ s 2017 Vision For America Award recipient, and has been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index for eight consecutive years and the FTSE4Good Index for four consecutive years.

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