By Jacqueline Drumheller, sustainability manager
These days, most 16-year-olds are focused on getting their driver’s licenses, playing Fortnite or deciding who they want to ask to prom, but Shelby O’Neil isn’t your average teenager. She’s a Girl Scout who created Jr Ocean Guardians for her 2017 Girl Scout USA Gold Award Project to share her passion to save our oceans and marine life for future generations.
Shelby reached out to Alaska Airlines last year, urging us to eliminate single-use plastic straws to reduce plastic pollution that is damaging our oceans. Little did she know, we were on the cusp of becoming the first U.S. airline to make this change, building on our decades-long commitment to environmental stewardship.
Starting this summer, we’re replacing non-recyclable plastic stir straws and citrus picks – we used 22 million last year – with sustainable, marine-friendly alternatives on all domestic and international flights, as well as in Alaska’s lounges across the country. For people with special needs, we’ll happily provide non-plastic, marine-friendly option, upon request. We’ve partnered with the Seattle-based nonprofit Lonely Whale, an organization that drives impactful market-based change on behalf of our oceans, to support this initiative.
Lonely Whale isn’t alone in raising visibility of this issue. The Earth Day Network declared ending plastic pollution to be the theme for Earth Day this year, challenging everyone to reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastic they consume.
For Alaska Airlines flight attendant Abbe Gloor, the news was warmly welcomed. One of Alaska’s most enthusiastic inflight recyclers, she has eliminated all single-use plastic in her personal life and serves as an ambassador for the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit that takes a science-based approach to eliminating plastic pollution.
“This change is a good thing and a small step in the right direction. When it comes to the environment, we can all do a little bit better,” she said. “It was all the plastic that I observed when visiting beaches around the world that motivated me to act, so as a company that flies people to beautiful beaches, this makes a lot of sense.”
This initiative marks an impactful shift for Alaska Airlines. But the change doesn’t stop there. Besides removing single-use non-recyclable plastic straws and picks, we will be replacing most of our large (32-46 ounce) aseptic juice boxes with aluminum cans, which are more easily recyclable and less wasteful. Last year, we replaced the majority of our bottled beer with cans, which are lighter and easier to recycle.
“I am so proud of Alaska Airlines for joining me, Lonely Whale and many others in the fight to protect our oceans,” said Shelby O’Neil. “My hope is that we can continue to rally together and inspire future generations to take a stand and eliminate plastic pollution to help save our oceans.”
Be a greener flyer with these on-board recycling tips: