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Alaska Airlines to Ditch Plastic Cups for Eco-Friendly Alternatives

The decision to eliminate plastic cups in favor of paper alternatives is part of the carrier's long-term plan to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2025

by Fergus Cole

February 1, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is boosting its green credentials by getting rid of plastic cups in favor of paper ones, becoming the first carrier in the U.S. to do so. The Seattle-based airline has partnered with Boxed Water Is Better, a U.S. drinks company dedicated to creating sustainable alternatives to plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and other carbon-heavy drink cartons. The carrier aims to replace all its plastic cups with paper alternatives, while most passengers in First Class will be served drinks in reusable glassware.

According to Alaska Airlines, switching from plastic cubs to FSC-certified, eco-friendly alternatives for its inflight beverages will save over 55 million plastic cups from landfills each year—equivalent to more than 2.2 million pounds of plastic, equal to the weight of 24 Boeing 747s.

“As we fly toward a more sustainable future, we’re proud to be the 1st U.S. airline to eliminate plastic cups!” said Alaska Airlines in a tweet in late January. “By partnering with @BoxedWater & serving drinks in responsibly-sources paper cups, we’re saving 2.2M+ lbs of plastic from landfills a year!”

Photo: Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

This is not the first time that Alaska Airlines has tried to eliminate single-use plastics from its flights. In 2018, the carrier began removing plastic straws and drink stirrers from its inflight services, another first in the U.S. aviation industry.

In 2021, it also established its aims to produce net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, which involves renewing its fleet, operating more efficient routes, transitioning to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), using novel propulsion, and reliable carbon-offsetting technology.

“Doing the right thing is one of our core values, and nothing is more right and urgent than protecting the beautiful places that we connect our guests to through flight,” said Todd Traynor-Corey, managing director of guest products at Alaska Airlines. “This is another important step in our journey to eliminate single-use plastics and an important step for the industry to see how product innovations can chart a course to a greener future.”

However, passengers stepping on an Alaska Airlines plane in the coming days, weeks, and even months, may be surprised to be still presented with plastic drinking cups. This is because the transition to paper vessels will last until 2025.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER photographed May 24-25, 2016 by Chad Slattery across California.

The airline needs to coordinate with its suppliers over the transition, and switching thousands of products across its fleet of almost 300 aircraft overnight is a challenging task.

“Eliminating plastics is a team effort,” added Traynor-Corey. “It requires broad collaboration with our supply chain partners and inflight team to make new products and practices that move us toward a future with less plastic. That progress only happens with a deeply shared commitment to care for our environment.”