Qantas has trialled the world's first flight ever to produce no landfill waste as the airline embarks on a mission to cut out the use of 100 million plastic items from its planes by next year.
Andrew David, CEO of Qantas' domestic arm, said the flight from Sydney to Adelaide on Wednesday represented a "significant day" for aviation. The airline currently produces the equivalent of "80 fully-laden Boeing 747 jumbos" per year in waste across its Qantas and Jetstar operations.
“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,” Mr David said.
On Wednesday's flight to Adelaide, customers found meal containers made out of biodegradable packaging made from sugar cane, cutlery made from crop starch and paper cups.
“These products will be turned into compost and used in gardens and farms across the country. Any plastic items such as bottles or any paper items will be collected and recycled,” Mr David said.
A flight on this route normally produces around 34 kilograms of waste, contributing to 150 tonnes of waste annually.
The cost of switching to biodegradable materials won't be passed on to customers, Mr David explained. "We are prepared to make this investment and over the long term it will reduce our costs," he said.
Liz Hall, a passenger on the flight to Adelaide, said she hadn't been aware of the trial until she boarded the plane, but felt there was no change to the regular service. Her breakfast meal which included a frittata and bacon was delivered hot and on time.
“I think it is on the average Australian's mind how much goes into landfill,” she said. “The biodegradable packets are a really good idea, I have a grandson who is four and he gets very sad when he sees rubbish,” she said.
"It’s funny we are doing it on a flight to South Australia, because they are quite focused on recycling, including bottle returns,” Ms Hall said.
'Kind of sickening'
Flight attendant Maddie Rowcliff said the amount of waste produced across a single fight was immense, and staff were well aware of the environmental impact.
"We see how much waste there is physically every day, and it is kind of sickening and we are already in an industry that is not very environmentally friendly," Ms Rowcliff said.
“The only thing we could be recycling on a normal flight is cups, cans, water bottles and newspapers that go into the green bags on flight, everything else would go into a combined into one bag" - and then off to landfill.