water bottles

Alaska Airlines’ secret weapon to reduce plastic use

Today Alaska Airlines kicks off a campaign aimed at reducing the use of single-use plastics.

The secret weapon in the plan? You.

The airline’s #FillBeforeYouFly initiative is asking passengers to pitch in to reduce the use of single-use plastics inflight by bring their own water bottle and filling it up at the airport before they board.

To kick off the campaign, today Alaska will be giving out complimentary reusable water bottles in all 7 Alaska Airlines’ lounges and on select flights leaving Seattle and San Francisco International Airports.

In addition, the airline says it will plant a tree for every passenger who brings a pre-filled water bottle onto their flight and posts a photo to social media tagging @AlaskaAir with the hashtag #FillBeforeYouFly.

“Our ultimate goal is to work together with our guests and employees to improve the health of our water by reducing plastic use,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of external relations. ““Land, water, and animals are incredibly special parts of the places we live and fly – and we’re in this for the long term.”

Alaska estimates that if just 10% of its passengers bring their own pre-filled water bottle when they fly and choose reusables, it could save more than 700,000 plastic water bottles and 4 million plastic cups per year.

This isn’t Alaska Airline’s first step towards helping to save the planet: in 2018, Alaska became the first airline to replace single-use, plastic stir straws and citrus picks with sustainable alternatives and the airline recently replaced bottled beer with aluminum cans, which are lighter and easier to recycle.

SFO’s plastic water bottle ban.

The ban on the sale of single-use plastic water bottles at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) goes into effect on September 20th.

The move requires all airport retailers, restaurants, airline lounges, and vending machines to sell or provide water in recyclable aluminum, glass or BPI-certified compostable bottles.

The policy applies to purified water, mineral water, carbonated or sparkling water, and electrolyte-enhanced water, but does not include flavored beverages such as sodas, teas, or juices.

In a statement, SFO says it has provided retailers with a list of approved alternatives to plastic water bottles and will continue to update this list as the market for plastic-free bottled water evolves.

Of course, you don’t need to buy a bottle of water at SFO. A great option is to bring along a reusable container and fill it up at any of SFO’s approximately 100 free Hydration Stations and drinking fountains, located in all terminals both pre- and post-security.

If you don’t have your own bottle, Brita will help you out. On September 20, when the single-use plastic water bottle ban goes into effect at SFO, Brita will hand out more than 1000 complimentary Stainless Steel Premium Filtering Water Bottles. These have a double wall insulation to keep water cold for up to 24 hours and come with a replaceable filter that reduces chlorine taste and odor.

Finding water at the airport

Each Friday I have the great pleasure of answering travel questions sent in by readers to msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin blog.

This week the question was about water at the airport.

When Heather Snodgrass flies she likes to stay well-hydrated. But she’d rather not add to landfills by buying bottled water at the airport. “I usually see water fountains, but prefer to have a supply of water with me rather than take multiple trips back to a fountain.”

So in preparation for her next trip, Snodgrass asked Overhead Bin: “Can you travel with an empty bottle, such as sports top bottle, and refill it at water fountains past the TSA checkpoints? I want to avoid losing a great water bottle.”

The short answer is yes.

In fact, many airports around the country are actively encouraging travelers to bring their own empty water bottles along, in part because it’s time-consuming and expensive to cart away all those full or half-full bottles, cans and cups that passengers discard at the security checkpoints.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and a growing number of other airports around the country are installing beverage collection stations at the checkpoints to try to cut down on what gets carted off to landfills. “Travelers can pour beverages into the drains and keep the bottles,” said Steve Johnson of Oregon’s Portland International Airport.

For travelers like Snodgrass, who want to make sure they can find a place to fill a water bottle post-security, airports such as San Francisco International Airport and Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports are also installing special water bottle refill stations.

SFO has four “hydration stations,” and Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports each have two. (The Midway stations are at the entrance to concourses A and B; at O’Hare they are in Terminal 2.) The hands-free, sensor-activated stations at O’Hare also have counters that have been tallying the number of 16-ounce bottles diverted from landfills.

“Together, the two stations at O’Hare have saved 220,717 bottles,” since their installation in June and July 2010, said Gregg Cunningham of the Chicago Department of Aviation.