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Alaska Airlines campaign #fillbeforeyoufly urges passengers to reduce plastic waste

Of all the things people do every year, flying causes more greenhouse gas pollution than almost anything. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines is working to shrink that carbon footprint. Its latest move is a campaign to reduce plastic waste on flights.

With the twitter hashtag #fillbeforeyoufly, the airline launched a social media campaign at the gate for a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles, giving away stainless steel bottles with the new slogan in the airline’s colors.

“So cool, right?” said Dune Ives, the executive director of Lonely Whale, the nonprofit behind the campaign for the city of Seattle’s ban on plastic straws. Her organization is one of the partners on this initiative, to reduce the number of disposable plastic cups and bottles generated by airline passengers.

Alaska no longer uses any plastic straws on its flights. And now they’re trying to reduce the other plastic trash that comes when people rely on single use plastics to fulfill their hydration needs. Ives says the impact of reducing these items will be much greater.

“With straws, we just wanted people to pay attention, that there’s an ocean, we use a lot of plastics, stop sucking – the octopus is going to slap you,” she said, explaining some of the ideas behind the cheeky campaign to get people to "stop sucking" to get plastic out of the oceans.

She says what Alaska Airlines is starting is a campaign that goes deeper, because there are more plastic bottles in use every day and avoiding them is more complex. But her organization is ready to support it with more catchy slogans, in the name of addressing ocean health, as well as climate change.  Because, Ives says,  the polymers used to manufacture single-use plastics are made from fossil fuels.

“With the water bottle campaign, we really want people to hydrate like they give a damn – and hydrate like the oceans matter," she said. "Because it has this direct tie back into oil and gas. And we think reusables –  or just using your face and a water fountain – is just as easy. “

Alaska says its goal is to reduce the per-passenger waste it sends to landfills by 70 percent by the end of 2020.  Right now, it says it's at 65 percent compared to nearly a decade ago.

Alaska Airlines Vice President Diana Birkett Rakow spoke at the campaign launch, praising air crews for helping design the initiative. Afterward, she said some plastics have their place and they’re not trying to do away with everything.

To make this campaign work, it’s important to follow the instructions in the hashtag: look for a hydration station at the airport and fill up before takeoff, because flight attendants are not allowed to refill people’s bottles in flight, due to weight restrictions, the limited water they load on the planes and the need to ensure there will be enough for everyone.

As an added incentive, Alaska says it will plant a tree for every passenger who brings a pre-filled water bottle onto their flights and shares a photo depicting it on social media, using the new hash tag. Trees are an antidote to carbon pollution because they absorb it as part of the photosythesis they use to grow.

This latest initiative falls in line with many environmentally minded actions the airline has taken over the years, including Alaska’s pioneering use of aviation biofuels and innovative electronic aircraft guidance systems to maximize fuel efficiency.

It’s also part of a wise business strategy. Analysts note that early efforts to “green” airline travel may pay off as awareness grows about the carbon intensity of flying and more travelers seek ways to offset the pollution or avoid it altogether.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to