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Behavior Change
Alaska Airlines Asks Guests to #FillBeforeYouFly, to Reduce Inflight Plastic Waste

Alaska’s new initiative aims to rally flyers to bring their own water bottle and fill it before they board; the airline will now plant trees when guests bring their own pre-filled water bottle.

Today, Alaska Airlines launches its #FillBeforeYouFly initiative — aimed at rallying passengers and employees to bring their own water bottle and fill it before they board, to reduce the use of single-use plastics inflight. This is the latest in the airline’s sustainability efforts to reduce inflight waste per passenger going to landfills by 70 percent by 2020.

“Our ultimate goal is to work together with our guests and employees to improve the health of our water by reducing plastic use,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines' VP of external relations. “Land, water and animals are incredibly special parts of the places we live and fly — and we’re in this for the long term.

“If just 10 percent of our guests brought their own pre-filled water bottle when they fly and choose reusables, it could save more than 700,000 plastic water bottles and 4 million plastic cups per year. That’s a big lift.”

Plastic bottles are among the top five most common items found in beach cleanups around the world; and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

For its latest initiative, Alaska Airlines is partnering with Lonely Whale and sustainable drinkware company MiiR — both making huge strides in reducing plastic waste — and the nonprofit Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). The airline will plant a tree for every passenger who brings a pre-filled water bottle onto their flight and posts a photo to social media tagging @AlaskaAir with the hashtag #FillBeforeYouFly. This is part of BEF’s initiative to plant 1 million trees on the West Coast of the US, to improve the environment and restore habitats for local fish and wildlife — and through this partnership, Alaska customers can help make this happen.

"The rivers and streams that fuel the West Coast are polluted, but planting trees in the right places can help reduce pollution and restore a healthy habitat," said BEF Chief Development Officer Val Fishman. "Alaska Airlines is setting an industry standard with their commitment to supporting water-quality programs. With today's #FillBeforeYouFly customer activation, they are serving an important role driving awareness about widespread water issues among customers, while also helping to put actual trees in the ground to ensure the cool, clean water needed for habitats to thrive.”

Fishman added that Alaska is the first airline to balance its water footprint, by being the Charter Sponsor of Promise the Pod — an initiative to restore habitat to save the declining population of orcas of the West Coast.

In 2018, Alaska Airlines became the first airline to replace single-use, plastic stir straws and citrus picks with sustainable alternatives as part of its #StrawlessSkies initiative, in partnership with Lonely Whale. Through #FillBeforeYouFly, Alaska Airlines is taking this a step further, aligning with Lonely Whale’s popular #HydrateLike campaign, inspiring individuals and companies alike to rethink reliance on single-use plastic bottles.

From the millions of gallons of fuel saved to the tiny plastic straws that were removed last year, Alaska Airlines has a long track record of flying greener. Since it started auditing its recycling efforts in 2010, Alaska has reduced per-passenger waste going to landfills by 65 percent, essentially cutting waste in half. In the last nine years, flight attendants captured over 15,000 tons of recyclable materials, about the same weight as 320 Boeing 737-900ERs.

“We know this is a resource-intensive business, with many stakeholders involved in the journey,” Birkett Rakow said. “While we’ve made progress, there’s a long road ahead of us. We’re working hard behind the scenes and along our supply chain to come up with solutions to reduce waste, adopt sustainable practices and eliminate single-use plastics inflight. Change takes time; we value the collective impact our customers and employees can make today.”

To further reduce its environmental impact, Alaska Airlines also recently replaced bottled beer with aluminum cans, which are lighter and easier to recycle. The airline has also been exploring alternatives to plastic water bottles and cups for several months, in its ongoing effort to reduce single-use plastics.

#FillBeforeYouFly follows nicely on San Francisco International Airport (SFO)’s latest sustainability initiative: As of August 20, all shops, restaurants and vending machines throughout SFO are banned from selling plastic water bottles; and almost 100 water-bottle filling stations have been added throughout the airport.

While #FillBeforeYouFly wouldn’t work in all parts of the world — in Argentina, for example, passengers are subjected to secondary screenings before they board, during which they’re forced to empty any liquids they may have procured at the airport after their initial security screening [Ed note: I’ve never understood the logic of this; if anyone has any insight, please comment below!] — it will be interesting to see the impacts of the initiative on Alaska’s flights throughout North America, Mexico and Costa Rica; and whether other airlines jump on board.