Delta Air Lines is burnishing its “green” credentials by trialing reusable plastic cups in economy class. There are better ways to promote sustainability than using toddler cups.
Delta Air Lines Toddler Cups: Good Effort, Bad Idea
Each year, Delta claims it creates 7 million pounds of plastic waste alone from its single-use plastic cups. This month, Delta is testing reusable plastic cups as well as paper cups onboard.
Finding the perfect cup is more challenging than it may seem – and the obvious choice isn’t always the most sustainable when weight and cup liner materials are considered. The plastic replacement needs to withstand hot, cold and alcoholic beverages while delivering a consistant customer experience.
Delta hopes to “minimize” its use of single-use cups by 2025.
I’m not enthusiastic about these sorts of “toddler” cups. We use these at home for my three-year-old, but I cannot imagine putting my mouth on a plastic cup that has been used several times in the past. Maybe that is just me (and I’m by no means a germaphobe), but I’m not going to use any cup that has a bite mark on it.
Furthermore, I tend to think the cost, time, and energy involved in trucking them to catering facilities, washing them, and trucking them back may not even lead to a net positive gain in terms of carbon footprint reduction, just transfer it to a less visible source of waste.
That said, I do think Delta is thinking about sustainability in the right way.
Pam Fletcher, Delta’s Chief Sustainability Officer, explains:
“Sustainability isn’t only good for our planet, it’s a business imperative that requires meaningful action today. That’s why this year’s flights focused on scalable solutions that can be put into play more broadly in the short and medium terms.”
Indeed, the ability to scale when Delta has such a complex operations cannot be minimized.
For example, remember how Aloha Airlines used to offer all passengers meals on ceramic using metal cutlery and real glasses? I loved that…but it was sustainable because of the limited operation Aloha Airlines ran (and even then, it ultimately cut that to cut costs).
I do think Delta can use reusable metal cutlery instead of those nasty paper utensils. Both European and Asian carriers have been using metal cutlery in economy class for years. Glass cups? That’s going to be a bit much.
Single-use plastic is easy and cheap – that’s why so many use it. It just makes sense from a short-term perspective. And yet even from a long-term perspective I find it difficult to imagine that thick plastic cups are the answer.
Yet I have to laugh at Delta’s broadest goal, which is “eliminating the company’s climate impact from flying.” What foolishness. Does that mean Delta is going to stop flying? As long as Delta flies, even with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), it is going to create a lot of pollution.
And don’t be fooled by the promise of SAF. I just heard a report on BBC yesterday explaining that there is nowhere near the amount of animal byproduct needed to create sufficient SAF to justify demand. Plus, there’s a big downside to SAF: humanity’s meat consumption is a huge contributing factor to carbon emissions. Are we we really going to increase our meat consumption to create more pigs for more aviation fuel?
I continue to believe that the only viable long-term solutions are carbon capture, millions of more trees, and improving desalination technology such that our duel problem of rising sea levels and water shortages can be addressed by converting ocean water to potable water.
I’m not a big fan of reusable plastic cups…I dislike drinking out of plastic cups period…but I really question whether investing in these heavier cups and then washing them is going to save much in terms of carbon footprint.
In the larger picture, no airline will be able to eliminate its carbon footprint from flying. But carriers can participate in research and development in technology that may be able to counteract the pollution that flying will always create. That seems like a better investment to me.