Pól Ó Conghaile: Why Ryanair deserves praise for its latest PR move
Lord knows, Ryanair is no stranger to PR disasters.
From pilot rostering failures to ‘random’ seating controversies, from strike threats to extra charges, travel’s version of President Trump bounces from firestorm to firestorm — despite offering Europe’s cheapest and widest flight network.
Amidst the controversies, however (including ongoing union negotiations that have raised the spectre of Easter strikes), some seriously good news has fallen through the cracks.
In case you missed it — which almost everybody I mention it to has — Ryanair has announced a five-year plan to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from its operations.
Yup, all non-recyclable plastics. That means a switch to wooden cutlery, biodegradable coffee cups and “the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products” it says... all by 2023.
The timing is perfect.
In recent months, we’ve learned that Ireland sends two million coffee cups to landfill every day (I was one of those surprised to learn that disposable cups include a thin layer of plastic, and have since cut way back on takeaway coffees and favoured cafés using compostable cups).
We’ve seen China move to shut the door on our waste exports, and plans by the EU to ban all single-use plastics by 2030.
Less than 30pc of plastics are recycled, the European Commission says, and plastics form 85pc of beach litter — a fact highlighted in heartbreaking HD by Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II.
This is what momentum feels like... when not changing is no longer an option. It’s time to act.
After Ryanair’s announcement, I checked in with other airlines as to their plastics plans. Neither Aer Lingus, BA, Emirates or Norwegian have committed to timelines, though all talk up their efficient fleets, green initiatives and general commitments to recycling (as does Ryanair).
BA is “working to reduce our use of plastic”, for example, and says it cut waste by 50pc per passenger on short-haul flights last year.
Norwegian tells me it is working to reduce the use of plastic in meal services, while Emirates’ economy class fleece blankets are sustainably made by recycling some 88 million plastic bottles a year.
On the oceans, the RCCL group (which includes Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara Cruises) has a task force looking at ways to minimise, “and if possible, eliminate” the use of plastics on its ships.
All are steps in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough.
Ryanair deserves kudos for its self-imposed five-year deadline (it will fully launch the initiative “in the near future”). It doesn’t have to do this — for all the strike threats and flight cancellations, profits rose by 12pc in the last quarter.
But doing it shows that sustainability and responsible travel is no longer a niche. Single-use plastic is everyone’s problem now.
Credit where it’s due. Despite its controversies, Ryanair continues to innovate — it fully deserves any positive PR on this, and I hope other airlines follow its lead.