The Overuse of Single Use Plastic Waste on Airlines


A couple of our Cupanion team members were on a flight the other day and we were shocked by the number of disposable cups used on the flight…

29B6485C00000578-3128209-image-a-2_1434559042385We did a little research and we found this startling fact. Airline flights in the US use 1 million disposable cups every six hours! An average full, cross country flight will use 350 disposable cups. That is a lot of waste that sometimes is recycled but more often or not ends up in landfills. A typical cross country flight has two in-flight drink services – with two trash services. Most airlines won’t even let you re-use your disposable cup for the second drink service! We personally think this is a little unnecessary.

Now there are numerous reasons why airlines provide disposable cups with their drink service – wether it be for hygienic purposes or the fact that they can split 1 can of soda between two passengers.

Airplane But we say “Hey! Why don’t you just give your passengers 1 can of soda on their flight?” That way you can:

– Reduce your airline’s operating costs by eliminating disposable cups.
– Reduce your airline’s waste disposal costs (all those cups need to go somewhere).
– Reduce your environmental impact (your VP of Sustainability would be proud).

Still not convinced about getting rid of cups? There is also the option to offer beverages in reusable glasses. Yes, the initial investment is more expensive and you do need to consider the cost of washing reusable glasses but there are numerous other benefits that need to be considered:

  • As previously stated, you would not need to pay for the disposal of reusable cups till the end of their lifetime.
  • Your customer gets a better drinking experience. They will feel like they are a class above the rest just because their drink was served to them in a reusable.
  • The winner/the point of the article: the environment wins.
  • Soda in an airline plastic cup. Photo courtesy of Russell J. Smith via Creative Commons license.
    Soda in an airline plastic cup. Photo courtesy of Russell J. Smith via Creative Commons license.
    These benefits also ring true when you allow people to bring their own reusables on board. A great way to start encouraging people to bring their own reusables on board is by offering them to your most loyal customers. These are probably the people that are using the most disposable cups in the long run. By giving high quality and durable reusables to your most frequent flyers is a great way to make your loyal customers feel special while promoting sustainability.

    Airlines are constantly looking for new ways to improve their sustainability efforts. Wether it be looking at more sustainable (and costly) fuel options or purchasing more efficient aircrafts (which are also very costly). But very few look at eliminating disposable cups as an option, even though it is such a simple, cost effective way to promote sustainability.

    If you’re an airline looking to reduce disposable waste – contact us. We would love to help you develop a plan to eliminate disposable cups from your airline. You can reach us at or 888.824.7375

    3 Responses to "The Overuse of Single Use Plastic Waste on Airlines"
    1. Thank you Tara! I recently flew from Aspen to Dallas on American Airlines. I am working hard to reduce my use of plastic (because of the waste stream as well as what is happening to our oceans) so I brought my own cup. I had forgotten to fill it with water before the flight. The flight attendants refused to put water in my cup! I could only get water if I took their single use plastic cup. I was quite thirsty by the time I got to Dallas! There are health implications of eating and drinking out of plastic as well. There are a couple of great movies that mention this airline plastic as well – Plastic Ocean (recently out) and Bag It.

    2. Thank you for your article. I recently flew on Qatar and am overwhelmed by plastic waste for just a single flight. I am now preparing a letter to be sent to the airlines and will forward the same letter to as many airlines as I can sincerely hoping that they will make a change. I watched some documentaries recently about the environment and strongly feel that people need to open their eyes to whats happening to our beautiful Earth, the oceans especially. Do you have any tips on how we can reduce our own personal carbon footprint?

    3. Hello, I have always wondered why airlines must serve plastic cups. Is there a reason why they do not use paper cups???

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.