Four major carriers in the country have joined the national campaign against the plastic epidemic by becoming part of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance.
Vietnam Airlines said they have started using paper cups and biodegradable alternatives for trash bags and blanket wraps. The national carrier said in a press release that it is also opting for other go-green materials for their in-flight products, including non-woven fabric and bioplastic made with wheat or corn flour.
"The change will be permanent, and we are working on a step-by-step blueprint for the long-term shift," a Vietnam Airlines representative said.
But it will not be a sweeping change all at once, "since eco-friendly products in Vietnam are still quite scarce and expensive," the representative said. The airline is currently working with a manufacturer in Vietnam who supplies such products to Japan and Europe.
Newcomer Bamboo Airways already sent its first "green" flight to the sky on June 5. The flight from Hanoi to the south-central town of Quy Nhon was operated free of single-use plastic (SUP) items, with food portions wrapped in wax paper, and non-woven fabric bags used for packaging blankets.
The airline aims to "greenize" all of its onboard lounges in the future, including both domestic and international ones, it said.
"Aside from the ‘Fly Green’ plan, we are also piloting a ‘Work Green’ initiative in our offices on the ground where our staff is encouraged to use less plastic items at work," Doan Huong, the company’s brand communicator, said.
Bamboo straws and paper-wrapped food served in the SUP-free flight of Bamboo Airways on June 5. Photo courtesy of Bamboo Airways.
The airline is preparing its next SUP-free flight, it said, without revealing further details.
As members of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance, two budget carriers Jetstar Pacific and Vietjet Air are also expected to come up with their own reduced plastic travel plans.
The carbon footprint of airlines has come in for increased criticism of late, as they produce millions of tons of unrecyclable waste every year.
A study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that an average passenger generates 1.4 kilograms of waste per flight. This includes leftover or untouched food and drink, plastic cups, water bottles, blanket wrappings and plastic packaging. In 2018, this amounted to 6.1 million tons of cabin waste.
The world’s first SUP free flight was flown last December by Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly. It was soon followed by Abu Dhabi-based Ethiaad, European low-cost carrier RyanAir and Australian national carrier Qantas.
In Vietnam’s neighborhood, Thai Airways pledged to cut back on SUP straws on board their fleets last year.
However, while attempting to reduce SUPs is becoming a trend in the travel industry, IATA has also reminded airlines to be mindful in their selection of alternative solutions. Air travel with strict hygiene and lightweight requirements poses unique challenges when carriers want to go green.
"Environmental impacts to take into consideration include increased energy and water consumption from cleaning and return logistics, water pollution from washing, as well as CO2 emissions that result from heavier materials carried on board aircraft," said Michael Gill, Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group, told a media briefing in Seoul earlier this month.
In Vietnam, local conservationists believe the efforts being made by the four major airlines are a big step. Plastic reliance has reached an alarming level with the country disposing around 2,500 tons of plastic waste a day.
"Reducing SUPs in Vietnam must involve action by both individuals and agencies," said Nguyen Thi Dieu Thuy, an expert at World Wide Fund for Nature Vietnam.
"It is great to see those airlines on-board in this big fight. The cause might cost a lot, moneywise, but the values it brings to the environment and general awareness are promisingly great."
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