An ambitious new target to remove more than 700 tonnes of single-use plastic on board flights this year has been set by British Airways.

This would amount to more than a quarter of a billion individual items of plastic – equivalent to over 30,000 suitcases full of single-use plastic.

The airline has already introduced initiatives to remove 25 million individual items of single-use plastic on board each year, equivalent to 90 tonnes, and has now set the target to increase this by more than 700%.

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BA has been working with suppliers to identify alternatives to single-use plastic items.

It will replace as many as possible with recyclable or re-usable items or items from sustainable sources.

The target also includes finding alternatives to single-use plastic cutlery, tumblers, cups, toothpicks and butter packaging on board.

The airline described the process of making these changes as complex, with a significant amount of research required to ensure that the alternative products sourced are “credibly sustainable”, offer the same hygiene levels as their plastic counterparts and do not outweigh the items they replace.

Customer experience manager Kate Tanner said: “Our customers have told us that they want to see these changes and we’re pleased to have made real strides in our journey to becoming more sustainable.

“We’ve spent a long time researching how to make sustainable changes without causing environmental impact elsewhere. For instance, we are looking at the amount of water and detergent needed to wash metal cutlery and how often it needs to be replaced versus using plastic or bamboo cutlery.

“We’ve looked at how we ensure blankets and other items can be kept clean without a plastic covering and the lifespan of all the new items compared to the existing ones.

“Some potential replacement options may be heavier, which would then have an impact on the weight of the aircraft and therefore on our emissions, so we must ensure we are making the right choices on all replacements.”

Eco-artist Sarah Turner has been commissioned to create a giant suitcase made from a thousand pieces of waste plastic, including 160 spoons, more than a dozen plastic stirrers, drinks lids, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, catering dishes and covers and bottles.

The sculpture, which represents the 30,000 suitcases worth of plastic waste being removed, is on display at BA’s Heathrow headquarters.