The war on plastic makes its way to airplanes

Key Points
  • The move is part of a broader trend in the restaurant and food and beverage industries.
  • American Airlines and Alaska Airlines announced a similar measure this year.
  • United will replace the plastic stirrers and cocktail picks with bamboo versions.
A United Airlines airplane takes off at San Francisco International Airport.
Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

United Airlines is the latest airline to ditch plastic straws and cocktail picks, amid concerns over pollution and wildlife threats caused by disposable plastics.

Starting in early November, the third-largest U.S. carrier, which operates 4,600 flights a day and carried 148 million passengers last year, will replace disposable plastic drink stirrers that double as straws and picks with bamboo versions in all of its cabins.

American Airlines, the world's largest airline, took a similar step in July and said it would also offer plastic alternatives to flatware and stir sticks in its lounges. In May, Alaska Airlines announced it would ditch plastic stirrers for ones made with white birch and start using citrus picks made of bamboo.

Airlines' shift to other materials for on-board and lounge use mirrors that of the restaurant and food and beverage industries where several companies are pledging to use alternatives to single-use plastic straws or plastic packaging. Starbucks, for example, in July said it would eliminate plastic straws from its cafes by 2020. A ban on plastic straws, utensils and cocktail picks went into effect in Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered, that month.

United declined to say whether the bamboo picks and stirrers would be more expensive than the plastic versions but said they are slightly heavier.

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