Delta Air Lines plans move to all paper cups

How would you feel about drinking your inflight soft drinks — or cocktails — out of a paper cup?

That’s what the future holds for Delta Air Lines passengers.

This month, the Atlanta-based carrier announced it’s beginning final testing on a new paper cup that would replace all of the plastic cups currently used on board its planes.

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These won’t be the same paper cups currently used for coffee and hot tea. Delta says it has spent years prototyping a new cup that’s capable of withstanding its entire lineup of inflight beverages — hot, cold and alcoholic. Also, these new cups are designed to make it easy for flight attendants to stack and separate, to keep inflight service moving efficiently.


Delta is currently testing the cups on several transcontinental domestic flights and a handful of other routes, with plans to expand them out to the broader network in the future.

Part of Delta’s sustainability effort

Why would Delta serve passengers soda or beer in a paper cup? It’s part of the company’s effort to reduce its environmental footprint.

Moving completely to paper cups would help Delta eliminate seven million pounds of single-use plastics annually, the company says. The step is part of the airline’s larger goal to phase out all of the single-use plastics used on board its aircraft by 2025.


More broadly, the International Air Transport Association, a global aviation trade group, hopes to get the airline industry to net zero carbon by 2050.

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Making changes like disposing of single-use plastics won’t come close to achieving that goal, though. By far, the largest part of that initiative, IATA says, involves switching to more planet-friendly jet fuel (known in the industry as “sustainable aviation fuel).

However, SAF is currently used on just a tiny portion of commercial flights, and producing it is, today, far less cost-efficient compared with current, kerosene-based fuels — an uphill battle David Neeleman, Breeze CEO, bemoaned as a “waste of money” during comments at an industry event this fall.

Aviation is believed to contribute to around 2% of global emissions.

Delta acknowledged these challenges in announcing its shift away from plastic cups.

“Our main goal is to decarbonize our business — a lot of which will come from what we fly, how we fly, and the fuel we use,” Amelia DeLuca, chief sustainability officer, said in a statement announcing the news.

“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also focus on what we can do right now with our own operation to be more sustainable,” DeLuca said.

To date, Delta has removed around 4.9 million pounds of single-use plastics from onboard its planes.

Its new cups are compostable and can be recycled.

When will Delta switch to paper cups?

When might you find yourself drinking wine out of a paper cup on a Delta flight?

Final testing on select flights will happen over the next few months and will wrap up by spring 2024, according to the airline.

At that point, the plastic cups will return — temporarily — while the replacement paper cups are produced and then rolled out across the airline’s network.

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