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Coffee, tea or...United Airlines gets rid of Styrofoam cups

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It may be the most cliched line in the airline industry but when a United Airlines flight attendant asks you whether it's, "coffee or tea?" they'll soon be handing it to you in a recyclable cup as the airline announced that they are doing away with Styrofoam cups on their flights effective next month.

The Styrofoam replacement, known as the InCycle cup, is made from 50 percent post-consumer recycled content. One recycled plastic bottle can produce four and a half of these environmentally friendly coffee cups.

As the airline industry is most susceptible to volatile energy pricing it is constantly looking for ways to trim costs. When an airline undertakes a cost saving measure that also has environmental benefits it should be applauded.

It's small initiatives such as the new coffee cup that have helped United recycle 23.5 million pounds of aluminum cans, paper and plastic from waste generated on board aircraft and in its facilities in the last six years.

United is not alone in its recycling efforts. American, Delta and Southwest all have environmental programs in place dealing with in-flight waste management. Curiously, the first environmental programs for most major airlines were voluntary recycling efforts initiated by flight attendants.

American's flight attendants began the industry's first on-board recycling program in 1989 and have since recycled more than 12 million aluminum cans each year. American Airlines says that on-board waste diversion represents the weight of four new Boeing 737 aircraft.

Launched in 2007, Delta’s "In-flight Recycling Program" stemmed from voluntary efforts by its flight attendants. Since the start of the program 3,504 tons of passenger material have been recycled by Delta Airlines waste management services.

Efforts at Southwest Airlines since August 2008 to recycle co-mingled waste (paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard) from all its operations has diverted more than 9,800 tons of material from landfills.

United Airlines, much like its competitors, has learned that green business is good business. United continues to review its green initiatives and updates its on-board recycling policy and procedures to further simplify the recycling process for its front-line crew. The flight attendants.

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