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(Australian Associated Press)
Mini Vegemite servings were out and compostable crop starch cutlery was in on what Qantas says was the world’s first zero-waste commercial flight.
Passengers flying from Sydney to Adelaide on Wednesday sipped from water bottles destined for an Adelaide recycling plant and ate meals out of containers made from sugar cane as the Australian carrier trialled an initiative it says will cut 100 million single-use plastics by the end of next year and eliminate 75 per cent of the airline’s waste by the end of 2021.
About 1,000 single-use plastic items were substituted with sustainable alternatives or, in the case of individual Vegemite servings, removed altogether as the Qantas group embarked on its aim to reduce an annual mountain of waste equivalent to 80 fully laden Boeing 747 jumbo jets,
All used in-flight products on the two-hour flight from NSW to SA were separated and will be composted, reused or recycled.
Qantas domestic boss Andrew David said that with the cost of landfill rising and on-board waste the No.1 concern raised by corporate customers, there was a strong business case for the initiative.
While there will be an initial expense, Mr David said the move will eventually save money by cutting the cost of waste disposal and would not push airfares higher.
“We want to give customers the same level of service they currently enjoy, but without the amount of waste that comes with it,” Mr David said.
“This flight is about testing our products, refining the waste process and getting feedback from our customers.”
The Sydney-to-Adelaide flight alone would normally generate 34kg of waste per flight, and 150 tonnes annually.
But the food containers trialled on Wednesday were made from sugar cane pulp left over from refineries, while the compostable coffee cups were made with plastic made from plant matter rather than oil.
The packaging was supplied by Sydney-based BioPak, which is aiming to prove such environmentally conscious behaviour is viable at corporate scale.
Chief executive Gary Smith said there was still a cost premium to companies but that it was getting lower with scale.
“Many industries can look at this and say ‘they did it, it worked and there’s no difference to customer experience’,” Mr Smith said.
“People seem to think it’s difficult and it’s hard, but it’s not.”
Qantas and Jetstar plan to replace 45 million plastic cups, 30 million cutlery sets, 21 million coffee cups and four million headrest covers with sustainable alternatives.
Food waste from international flights cannot be composted due to legal requirements, but Qantas said it will work with suppliers and government to reduce the volume of this waste.
Federal government says aviation contributes to about three per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions.
Qantas customers already contribute to the aviation industry’s largest carbon offset scheme and the carrier this year will start incentivising travellers to get involved with the scheme by offering frequent flyer points for every dollar spent.