Lisa Daniell is at the spearhead of Air New Zealand's war on plastic.

The airline's sustainability head has the ambitious goal of eliminating 24 million separate items of single-use plastic over this current year.

During the past year the airline has removed single-use plastic straws, stir sticks, eye mask wrappers and plastic toothbrushes from lounges and onboard aircraft.

Over a 12-month period this will see the airline reduce its plastic footprint by 260,000 plastic toothbrushes, 3000 straws, 7.1 million stirrers and 260,000 eye mask wrappers.

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She says one of the biggest challenges is finding alternatives to plastic that are genuinely biodegradable or recyclable. And they have to be lightweight.

''Biodegradable depends on the time frame,'' says Daniell.

''And we need to be able to better define what compostable. We need certification and rules.''

Since China had stopped taking recycling and waste from New Zealand companies here were finding it more difficult.

The International Air Transport Association estimated the airline industry generated 5.2 million tonnes of inflight waste in 2016 and Air New Zealand last year launched Project Green, a programme to stop so much being dumped.

It was set up with the airline's catering partner LSG Sky Chefs and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to tackle waste from international services arriving in Auckland, with a goal to divert 150 tonnes of waste from landfill annually.

In October the project had seen 40 inflight products, which had previously been sent to landfill due to biosecurity controls, being reclassified so these can be reused on flights in future if they are removed from the aircraft sealed and untouched.

Products approved include sealed beverages and snacks (such as cans of soft drink, packets of cookies, boxes of tea, packets of coffee and sugar sachets). To date the airline had repurposed more than one million of each of the following – plastic cups, sugar sticks, paper cups and paper cup lids.

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Daniell says it was highly inefficient to fly a bottle of water around the world and then throw it out because of the rules.

Project Green was saving money by not biosecurity treating the products and then paying landfill charges.

''That is something that hasn't cost us money. It is saving us and there's uplift in terms of staff engagement.''

Daniell spent a decade practicing environmental law before starting at Air New Zealand nearly four years ago.

Her interest in the environment was developed growing up on the shores of Tauranga Harbour and hiking on DOC land with her family while on holiday.

She did a mid-career masters in environment law in the United States at the University of Vermont.

Air NZ, LSG Sky Chefs and MPI have teamed up to tackle inflight waste. Photo / Supplied
Air NZ, LSG Sky Chefs and MPI have teamed up to tackle inflight waste. Photo / Supplied