You’ll be stirring your tiny coffee with some bamboo starting in November

By Tim Nelson
Updated September 10, 2018
Credit: fortton/Getty Images

It hasn’t been a good year for single-use plastic. Straws, stirrers, and all manner of beverage accessories have become something of a scapegoat for our pollution problems. It seems that practically every day marks a new move to eradicate them from a coffee chain or restaurant. Now, not even the friendly skies are a safe space for plastic waste.

That’s because starting in November, United Airlines will be keeping their planes clear of plastic stirrers (which double as tiny straws) and cocktail picks. Instead, future flyers will use bamboo to enjoy their overpriced yet somehow tiny in-flight beverages.

The decision to ditch plastic stirrers and picks comes after American Airlines and Alaska Airlines took similar stands over the past few months. Alaska is also going the wood route, introducing stirrers made from white birch and bamboo citrus picks. United’s commitment to doing away with plastic now means two of the three largest airlines in the US have moved on from plastic.

It may feel like scrapping tiny single-use plastic doesn’t make a big difference. But with United operating 4,500 flights a day around the world, the move by the US’ third-largest commercial airline could add up quickly. Airlines have a reputation for making meticulous decisions about their in-flight offerings to improve their operating margins, so there’s no doubt that even a small conservation effort like this could have an outsized impact.

The plastic for wood swap is set to be the first step in a larger sustainability push for United. According to the Denver Business Journal, the airline says it’s in the process of “evaluating more sustainable options for our onboard catering operations beyond our current partnership with brands that are committed to sustainable practices like illy coffee.” How that plays out remains to be seen as of yet.

It’s a good move, but one has to wonder if the switch will somehow lead to mass bamboo deforestation or some kind of crazy ticket upcharge. Either way, it’s good to know that the experience of strapping yourself into a giant metal bird that uses a ton of fuel will at least be a little greener.