In what’s been dubbed “a significant day for aviation,” Qantas Airways has successfully piloted the first commercial flight to produce zero landfill waste.
Flight QF739 took off yesterday morning, marking the launch of Qantas’ plan to cut 100 million single-use plastics by the end of 2020 and eliminate 75% of waste by the end of 2021.
“In the process of carrying over 50 million people every year, Qantas and Jetstar currently produce an amount of waste equivalent to 80 fully-laden Boeing 747 jumbo jets,” Qantas domestic CEO Andrew David said.
Qantas reports that this flight typically produces 34 kilograms of waste, adding up 150 tonnes annually.
However, all inflight products aboard yesterday’s service from Sydney to Adelaide were either compostable, recyclable, or reusable.
Approximately 1,000 single-use plastic items were substituted with sustainable alternatives or removed altogether. Ditched items include individually-packed portions of milk and Vegemite spread.
Before you lament the absence of Vegemite, rest assured that Qantas still aims to please. Passenger Liz Hall remarked that her tasty breakfast frittata was delivered hot and on time.
Inflight meals were served in compostable containers made from sugarcane alongside cutlery made from crop starch. They sourced their new eco-friendly packaging from a Sydney-based company called BioPak.
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Following meal service, crew members from Qantas’ ‘Green Team’ collected leftover items for reuse, recycling, or composting in various waste streams. Some of these products will be repurposed as compost for gardens and farms across Australia.
“This flight is about testing our products, refining the waste process and getting feedback from our customers,” David said.
Flight QF739 is a first step in the company’s campaign to slash waste. The initiative has been called The Bowerbird Project after an Australian bird that decorates its nest with small plastic items to attract a mate. You may recall this eco-conscious critter from Planet Earth II.
The Bowerbird Project also aims to cut waste in all aspects of air travel. Customers were issued digital boarding passes where possible. Electronic bag tags and reusable rubber bag tags replaced stickers on checked baggage. Qantas lounges at Sydney’s domestic airport also went ‘green’ for the flight.
Qantas and Jetstar have long paved the way for green aviation initiatives. They tested Australia’s first biofuel flights in 2012 and operated the first biofuel flight between Australia and the United States last year, using alternative fuel made from mustard seed.
The airline also operates the largest carbon offset scheme in aviation history, offering 10 Qantas points for every dollar spent offsetting travel from Australia. They claim that scheme is the highest standard earn rate of any frequent flyer initiative, and prompts one passenger to offset their flight each minute.
“We want to give customers the same level of service they currently enjoy, but without the amount of waste that comes with it,” David said.
He also assures that the cost of switching to biodegradable materials will not be passed on to consumers: “We are prepared to make this investment and over the long term it will reduce our costs.”