How to reduce waste and help the planet when you’re travelling on a plane


Pack for your next holiday responsibly (Picture: Unsplash)

Flying creates a lot of waste.

According to a Guardian analysis published earlier this year, taking a long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person in dozens of countries around the world produces in a whole year.

The figures obtained from German nonprofit Atmosfair found that a single flight from London to New York generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. Incredibly, there are 56 countries around the world, from Burundi to South Africa that emit less, per person, every year.

Shorter trips were just as bad. A flight from London to Rome carries a carbon footprint of 234kg of CO2 per passenger – topping the average produced by citizens of 17 countries annually.

With passengers expected to fly a total of 8.1tn km, up 5% from last year and more than 300% since 1990, 2019 is looking to be a pretty bleak year for the Ozone layer, especially considering natural disasters such as the fires currently raging the Amazon rainforest.

But it’s not just carbon emissions from the fuel that are a environmental problem – in 2017, airlines produced a terrifying 5.7 million tonnes of global waste, most of which went to landfill or incineration.

Obviously the best thing to do is to avoid flying. Train travel is coming back. Yes, it takes longer, but the carbon footprint from travelling the tracks is much, much less.

When it comes to comparing the negative effects of plane vs. train, the latter always comes out on top.

According to EcoPassenger, a journey from London to Madrid would emit 43kg (95lb) of CO2 per passenger by train, but 118kg by plane (or 265kg if the non-CO2 emissions are included).

The numbers are all dependent on many factors: the train’s power source and where it came from, especially. Though cars get a bad rep, having an electric one is still better than flying from Manchester to Edinburgh.

If a car is out of a question, go for a coach – the BEIS says travelling by coach emits 27g of CO2 per person per kilometre. Now there’s a stat a plane definitely cannot compete with.

But if you do have to fly – do what you can to cut down on waste when you’re in the air.

Thankfully, many airlines have now clocked on to all the sustainability trends of the moment and now offer everything from brand new planes to routes, eco-friendly packaging and collecting left over items for reuse on flights.

Ideally, and with all the money they make, so much more could be done to help lessen the effects flying has on the wider environment, but it’s a small step in the right direction.

Whilst zero-waste flights are a long way off, there are many ways you can singularly make a difference to help reduce your carbon footprint while flying. Here’s some of them.

Download your mobile boarding pass

The easiest thing anyone can do. Most, if not all, airlines now have their own app. Download it.

When you’ve done that, punch in your booking code and when the time is right, check-in and save your boarding pass. If you’re an iPhone user, add your boarding pass to you wallet.

Simple things like this means your airline will not have to print your boarding pass before you fly. Tip: screenshot your pass and save it to your camera roll.

This way you’ll save time and won’t be THAT person at the boarding gate.

Save paper buy downloading your mobile boarding pass. (Picture: Unsplash)

Refuse an airplane meal

For some, the free food is the added perk of flying, but truth is it’s already included in the price of your ticket.

If you actually ask any air host or hostess, they’ll tell you eating on a plane is really bad for you.

Research shows that consuming food at high altitudes actually shuts down your digestive system, which might explain why you feel so bloated when you get off a flight.

The alternative? Fast. If you are on a long haul flight, especially at night, ditch the sky high meal and wait until your transfer to load up on grub.

Think of all that plastic, non-reusable napkins and packaging you didn’t use. Advice: after you’ve booked your flight, go to ‘Manage Booking’. Here you’ll see a tab that says ‘choose meal’. You’ll then find an option that says ‘no meal’.

Check it and voila, you’ve helped reduce your waste whilst flying. Go you!

If it’s a weekend trip, only bring carry on

It is possible to travel without checking in a bag, you just have to do it right. Pack what you need, not what you might need.

The benefit for the environment here is that your airline won’t have to give you countless stickers and luggage tags to tracks all your belongings.

Bring a reusable water flask

First thing: make sure you don’t have any water in your flask before going through security – it will be confiscated.

Instead, head to the airport with a bone dry one, and once you do get through security, find a water fountain.

Most modern airports nowadays have public water fountains in their terminals. Before you fly, check to see if your destination, or connection has one.

By doing so, you won’t have to buy a bottle at the airport or ask for water on the plane, and as a result, you’ll reduce the amount of plastic you depend on in your daily routine.

You’ll also have your trusty bottle to use and refill throughout your trip.

Pack a zero waste kit in your carry on

This DIY kit includes everything from your own earphones to cloth napkins, reusable, sustainable and Rainforest alliance-approved wooden cutlery, travel cups and beauty kits you might usually depend on mid-flight.

For extra brownie points, pack a set of paper ore reusable straws. You can use them in air and at your destination. #Winning.

Buy luggage tags

US travellers are notorious for just turning up to the airport and filling out all their details on paper luggage tags.

Non-reusable tags aren’t needed in this day and age, so head to your local store and buy a silly one. I bought mine in Niagara Falls and it has a beaver playing hockey on it. You get the picture.

Don’t throw away your plastic toiletries bag

You know those ziplock bags they give you before you go through security? Yeah, don’t throw them away.

Doing so creates an unnecessary amount of plastic waste, which when discarded, causes havoc on local, and even international environments. Unbeknownst to many, the bags often find their way into natural habitats that, if not removed, kill wildlife.

Most of the carriers now offer bags that come with a handy ziplock – some even have handles – which means they are super durable.

If the thought of grabbing one of them makes your spine shiver, buy a totally reusable transparent silicone case. Not only will you go to the airport fully prepared, but you’ll also rack up year’s worth of green points, too!

Fill your toiletries bag with zero waste products

For some, this may prove laborious and expensive, but if you tend to travel a lot, it’s an investment worth making and means you won’t have to scramble to a Duty Free shop to buy a travel-sized version of shampoo – don’t add to your waste…

Instead, buy some recycled (or upcycle your own) and reusable mini bottles, and fill them up with everything you already have in the bathroom cupboard.

If you seriously want Mother Nature to respect you, purchase tinned (and coral-friendly) sunscreen and zero waste/vegan shampoos, conditioners and body washes.

Pack layers

You’re going to the Maldives. It’s your dream trip, and you are already kitted out in your shorts and questionable shirt (we’re looking at all you men) but your fashion choices are hurting the planet more than you think.

One of the first things you see plonked on your seat is a blanket, and that blanket has been pressed, cleaned and wrapped in a thin layer of plastic.

The sad thing is, that blanket will most likely be thrown away after you use it, too. The solution? If you don’t want to wear a jumper, pack a light scarf, light jacket or cardigan.

You can then keep warm on your own terms, and won’t have to waste even more energy by adjusting the bacteria riddled overhead fan.

MORE: Seven easy ways you can help save the Amazon rainforest

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