Commercial aviation has been in the spotlight once again recently for its environmental impact, and airlines around the world are under pressure to develop coherent, workable strategies and technologies to improve their sustainability. The latest of these, Qantas, completed a world first on 8th May by proving that a flight can operate without generating any landfill waste.

Flight QF739 from Sydney to Adelaide eliminated 1,000 single-use plastic items just on this single flight alone, with cabin crew serving meals in biodegradable containers made from sugar cane and cutlery made from crop starch. Gone from the meal service were coffee cup lids, while the individual containers of milk for hot drinks had also been axed. Instead, the airline used reusable containers with the focus being on using reusable, recyclable or sustainable onboard items.

Cabin crew for the flight were briefed to collect in all items given to passengers and sort everything to be reused, recycled or composted. On this flight alone, these small changes added up to a reduction of 34 kilograms of single-use plastic. Over the course of a year, this would add up to a staggering 150 tonnes on the Sydney to Adelaide route alone.

Passengers were encouraged to do their part by downloading their boarding passes on to their phones. They were also asked to use Qantas’ electronic ‘Q Bag Tag’ for checked luggage. These permanent luggage features save having a paper bar-coded tag added to your bag, and can be used for all your future Qantas domestic flights. Passengers on the flight who still used traditional paper boarding cards and bag tags were approached after the flight by airline staff, to recycle these items and help achieve the goal of zero landfill waste.

By 2020 Qantas is looking to cut 100 million single-use plastic items from onboard use, and attain a 75% reduction in overall waste from the company by 2021. The idea behind flight QF739 was to take the first steps, see if it could be done, and to gain valuable feedback from passengers and crew alike.

Qantas Domestic CEO Andrew David spoke at Sydney before the flight departed. He said, “We want to give customers the same level of service they currently enjoy, but without the amount of waste that comes with it.”

The airline estimates that it currently generates ‘eighty fully-laden Boeing 747 jumbos’-worth of waste across its Qantas and Jetstar services each year. “Our cabin crews see this waste every day and they want it eliminated. And, increasingly, our shareholders are demanding we do more to address our environmental footprint,” continued David.

By mid-2019 Qantas will also operate the most generous carbon offsetting scheme amongst any frequent flyer programme. As part of Qantas’ commitment to lower their environmental impact across the board, 10 Qantas Points will be awarded for each Australian dollar offset by a passenger on any of their flights.

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Before you fly, make sure you know how to avoid jet lag and read our 5 tips for a healthy long-haul flight.