Boxed Water and paper cups are in, 1.8M pounds of plastics are out: Alaska’s inflight service just got better for the planet

Photos by Ingrid Barrentine.

Starting tomorrow, we are eliminating the biggest sources of plastic waste on our flights: plastic water bottles and plastic water cups.

This giant step in the journey to reduce our impact on the environment removes 1.8 million pounds of single-use plastics from our aircraft over the next year – equivalent to the weight of 18 Boeing 737 aircraft.

We’re replacing plastic water bottles on board with Boxed Water cartons. Boxed Water packages purified water in 100% recyclable cartons made from plant materials, and guests surveyed report that they prefer Boxed Water over plastic-bottled water at a rate of 2-to-1.

And in the Main Cabin, flight attendants will pour water into recyclable paper cups versus plastic — removing more than 22 million disposable plastic cups from our fleet.

“We have a great recycling program, but we know single-use plastics have a big impact on the ecosystem and inevitably some will end up in a landfill or an ocean,” said Todd Traynor-Corey, managing director of guest products. “In order to reduce our waste footprint – and ultimately our carbon footprint – we need to actually eliminate single-use plastic. And the biggest offender is plastic water bottles.” 

For now, plastic cups will still be needed inflight for soda and alcoholic beverages, which can leak through paper cups. But Traynor-Corey’s team is exploring sustainable alternatives for those cups as well.

Our food & beverage team has committed to reduce plastic packaging for our most wasteful food and beverage items by 2025.

Our commitment to the environment

One of our core values is doing the right thing and that means reducing the impact of air travel on the environment. Our biggest burden comes from jet-fuel emissions, so our goal is to be the most fuel-efficient domestic airline.

To get there, we’re upgrading our fleet to more efficient 737-9 aircraft and continuing to improve the efficiency of our operation. And we’ve charted an ambitious course to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, including through the use of sustainable aviation jet fuels, or SAF.

We also continue to be an industry leader in reducing inflight plastic waste. Horizon Air employees started recycling inflight paper, plastic and glass waste in the 1980s, and over the last decade Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air flight attendants have captured tons of recyclables that would have otherwise gone to landfills.

In 2018, we were the first U.S. airline to eliminate plastic straws and stir sticks from our flights and lounges, and we have integrated compostable packaging and cutlery into our inflight service. This year, we pioneered a pre-order system for fresh food so guests get the items they want on flights, minimizing the waste of both food and packaging. We also encourage guests to bring their own reusable water bottles and #FillBeforeYouFly

“We live in and fly to some of the most beautiful places on earth, but the health of these habitats and communities requires active stewardship of our impact, and reducing plastic waste is a key step,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, vice president of public affairs and sustainability. “We’re fortunate to have the most caring employees in the business – and that care extends to the planet.”

Why the Boxed Water carton is better

Our food and beverage team started researching alternatives to plastic water bottles in early 2019, evaluating packaging for sustainability and inflight durability, as well as the taste of the water inside.

“It hasn’t been a simple process, but we saw this as an investment worth our time,” said Traynor-Corey. 

Members of Alaska’s Green Team Employee Resource Group also helped weigh the impacts and costs of plastic, paper, aluminum and other recyclable materials. Boxed Water stood out because it is truly renewable. The packaging is made of 92% plant material sourced from sustainably harvested trees. Even the resealable cap comes from leftover materials in the paper-making process. The packaging can also be recycled in most of our hubs. 

“Paper was the best, weight-wise, and for recycling cost, and the overall best way to reduce our footprint on the aircraft,” said Kiel Fullmer, a customer service agent and Green Team member who helped with the research. “It packs flat if a destination isn’t recycle-friendly and can be stowed for the return to a hub. Overall, it was a win-win for the operation and our sustainability plan.”

Flight attendants began serving small cartons of Boxed Water to First Class guests and on our Q400 flights last spring. “We got a lot of positive feedback organically from people who were flying and thought it was cool,” said Traynor-Corey. “And our employees who really value sustainability got excited about it.”

“When they ask for water, I tease them and say ‘I only have milk!’ Then I give them the cute little Boxed Water. I like how it becomes a topic of conversation. It shows the company is more respectful of nature and the environment.”

– Orly, Alaska Airlines flight attendant for 10 years

“Guests will hold the carton up to the window to take a photo. When they’re done with it, it’s easier to break down, and it makes more room in our recycling. It helps us with our space.”

— Greg, Alaska and Horizon flight attendant for more than five years

“The best thing is to bring your own refillable bottle of water, but we know that’s not always possible and people need water inflight,” Birkett Rakow says. “Boxed Water is the most sustainable water packaging we’ve found.” 

What’s next

The move to Boxed Water cartons and paper water cups cuts out our most wasteful plastic items, but this is just one step in the bigger journey. Our food and beverage team is actively exploring more sustainable options for the remaining inflight plastic cups used for soda and alcoholic beverages, as well as cutlery, napkins and overall food packaging.

“We are the right airline to lead this,” said Traynor-Corey. “Sustainability is part of our DNA.”

What Alaska guests can do

When you travel with us, you can help us be a more sustainable airline:

  • #FillBeforeYouFly: You can reduce your plastic use when you travel and bring your own empty reusable water bottle (or carton) to fill at a station once you’re through airport security. Next time you fly, share your water bottle photo with @AlaskaAir and we’ll work with our partner Bonneville Environmental Foundation to plant a tree on your behalf.
  • Offset your carbon footprint by investing in carbon offsets through our partner The Good Traveler
  • Donate your Mileage Plan miles to environmental charities like the National Forest Foundation, which is also a partner with Boxed Water.
  • If you’re heading to the beach, be sure to bring reef-safe sunscreen and check out other eco-friendly travel items from our friends at Boxed Water is Better®.
  • Learn more about our goals in our 2020 LIFT Sustainability Report

*Please note: Per our current policy, flight attendants are not able to fill guests’ personal water bottles or containers onboard.

6 comments on "Boxed Water and paper cups are in, 1.8M pounds of plastics are out: Alaska’s inflight service just got better for the planet"

  1. I’m so happy to hear this news!! Congratulations and please continue this earth-safe use of no more plastics on-board flights.

  2. What was just as wonderful as the container is that the water really tastes good!

    …Count on Alaska Airlines to come up with another great idea!!

  3. I enjoyed my first box of water less than 2 weeks ago on flights to/from Burbank CA. Loved the idea. I received first class service w/pre boarding process.
    Really appreciated the assistance & attention.

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