January 9, 2020

TAKE OFF: The World’s First Single-Use Plastic-Free Airline Is Up And Away

Words by Matt Leedham

After test flying the world’s first plastic-free flight on Boxing Day 2019, Portuguese airline Hi Fly began all single-use plastic-free flights from January 1, 2020.

As New Year revellers the world over crawled into bed after a long night of celebrations, Hi Fly Airline staff in Lisbon were already hard at work making last-minute checks to make sure that the company’s stated resolution to be the world’s first airline with flights entirely single-use plastic-free went without a hitch.

So, from January 1, 2020, as pledged by Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri in 2018, all of Hi Fly’s own flights will now take to the air without any single-use plastic items on board.

What’s the challenge?

It is estimated around 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste, including single-use plastic, earphones and food waste, is generated on passenger flights globally every year.

That’s an unimaginable amount of needless waste that could be turned into compostables and recyclables rather than end up in landfill, which would also save on additional power and resources.

An obsession with single-use plastics much? Irrespective of pledges and trial single-use plastic-free and waste-free flights by Etihad Airways and Qantas in 2019, the airline industry is still one of the worst offenders and has been slow to catch up on a commercial scale.

Hi Fly Plastic Free Flight

What’s the solution?

Hi Fly and its principal sustainability partner, the Mirpuri Foundation, have long been pioneers for greener aviation and are serious about the future of the planet and their responsibility to future generations.

Previous Hi-Fly/Mirpuri Foundation-backed initiatives have included decorating Hi Fly aircraft, including its Airbus A380, the largest commercial passenger plane in the world, with environmental messages, including Hi-Fly/Mirpuri Foundation-backed campaigns to ‘Save the Coral Reefs’ and ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’.

On Boxing Day 2018, the company operated the world’s first-ever ‘single-use plastic-free’ trial flight when it took passengers on a flight from the carrier’s base in Lisbon to Natal, Brazil, on an Airbus A340. This was quickly followed with three further test flights in addition to a series of 12 reduced plastic journeys.

The test flights concluded that every commercial passenger long haul flight taking to the air with no single-use plastic items on board prevent around 350kg of single-use, virtually indestructible plastic from poisoning our environment. That’s about the weight of a large touring motorcycle of plastic that is saved on every return journey.

To make it happen, the airline used innovative eco-products to replace plastic with bamboo cutlery, cups, spoons, and salt and pepper shakers, while packaging for bedding, dishes, individual butter pots, soft drink bottles and toothbrushes have been switched with compostable alternatives crafted from recycled material.

With eight aircraft including an Airbus A380, Hi Fly is an aircraft leasing fleet and has now become the worlds first single-use plastic-free airline.

Commenting ahead of the January 1st 2020 milestone, Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri said:

“We pledged at the time of our historic Hi Fly test flights, without any single-use plastic items on board that we would make Hi Fly the world’s first ‘plastic-free’ airline within 12 months. We knew that if we worked hard to overcome the problems that it was 100% possible. More importantly, in our hearts, we knew it was much more than that. We knew that this was a 100% necessary move for the future of our planet.”

Paulo Mirpuri, Hi Fly President

What will the positive impact be?

While Hi Fly is a small airline that leases its fleet of eight aircraft to other airlines on a short term basis, this is still a significant step in the war against plastic and will undoubtedly put other airlines on notice.

There have also been other recent advancements in combatting waste in the air with concept designs such as plastic-free in-flight meal trays dreamed up by PriestmanGoode and currently on show at the Design Museum in London and ‘edible cups’ being trialled by Air New Zealand.

Clearly, the race is now well underway to bring in single-use plastic items for airline use at large commercial scale.

Plastic-free in-flight meal trays dreamed up by PriestmanGoode

Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri says that “over 100,000 flights take off each day around the world and, last year, commercial aircraft carried nearly four billion passengers. This number is expected to double again in less than 20 years. So, the potential to make a difference here is clear,”

“Our corporate mission is based around sustainability and we work hand in hand with the Mirpuri Foundation to make sure that our corporate practices match our wider responsibilities to the planet.”

The Hi Fly/Mirpuri Foundation partnership also supports a raft of other environmental, conservation, scientific, artistic and exploration programs as well as sponsoring a wide range of educational events.

“We are excited and we are proud, but we were never in doubt”, said Paulo Mirpuri.

Find out more:

How can you travel to change the world?

Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.

Now you can easily create your impact by sharing your new-found knowledge with other friends who you think would also be interested.

Ultimately, responsible travel comes down to common sense – stay curious, keep yourself up-to-date with the challenges at hand and make yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.