As more and more travellers are aware of the environmental toll of air travel, anyone taking to the skies this year who wants to reduce waste as much as possible can follow a few some simple tips.
Airlines produce a lot of rubbish. In 2017, they generated 5.7m tonnes of waste globally, most of which went to landfill or incineration. Horrifying and disgusting no matter what way you look at it. Thankfully, a number of airlines are reducing waste by eliminating single-use plastics; introducing sustainable packaging and collecting leftover items for reuse, recycling, or composting. Is it enough? No. Absolutely not. But zero-waste, climate-friendlier flights are still a long way off. So in the meantime, if you’re taking a flight, here are some very simple steps you can follow to ensure it’s as low-waste as possible.
Don’t print your boarding pass
Unless the airline makes you (and most, if not all, won’t) don’t print your boarding pass. Instead, download it to your smartphone and save time and battery by taking a screenshot so it’s ready to present at the gates.
Pack a zero-waste kit
Be prepared and pack items you won’t have to purchase on the flight. A simple kit includes a reusable water bottle (which can be filled at water fountains beyond the security gate), earphones, travel cups for coffee or hot drinks, cloth napkins, reusable cutlery and even snacks so you don’t have to purchase any plastic-wrapped pretzels mid-flight. If you want to be extra prepared, you could even pack a reusable straw that you can use on the flight and in your cocktails at your destination. Go you!
Pack toiletries in a reusable bag
Those ziplock baggies are technically reusable but how many times have you lost one and had to grab another as you rushed through security? Invest in a transparent and sturdy toiletries bag to store liquids in, one that you can use at home. Yes, it’s still plastic but you’re likely to hold on to this one longer than a flimsy ziplock bag. If you can avoid plastic, opt for a transparent silicone case for extra green points.
Fill it with low or zero-waste products
As handy as the travel-sized version of your favourite shampoo may be, it’s just adding to your waste. Grab a reusable, recyclable travel-sized bottle and top it up with haircare and skincare products from your own bathroom. If you’re way ahead of us in the sustainable packing game, you’ve got zero-waste shampoo and cleanser bars, tinned (and coral-friendly) sunscreen and chewable toothpaste in your kit and for that, we salute you. The rest of us have much to learn.
Pack layers in your cabin bag
This one is so obvious it’s practically slapping us in the face but you’d be surprised how people sometimes forget the basic things when travelling. Pack layers like a sweater, light jacket or giant scarf in your carry-on. The plane will always be hotter or colder than you think it will be. Always. If you come prepared, you won’t need to ask cabin crew for a blanket (which will probably be thrown out after you use it anyway… such waste!) or waste even more energy by fiddling with the overhead fan.
Resist Duty-Free temptations
Unless you’re getting an incredible deal on a lifetime supply of gin, you don’t really need to make a pitstop at Duty-Free, especially if you’re being conscious of your waste output. Most items you buy will be wrapped in a tamper-proof plastic bag and if you’ve been paying attention, you know how we feel about plastic. Even glass bottles are usually sheathed in a thin, plastic mesh to keep them safe. There’s nothing you actually need here anyway, unless you get that lifetime supply of gin, so avoid temptation and make a beeline to your gate.
Offset your carbon emissions
Taking a flight is the worst thing you can do for the climate. There’s no getting around that and buying carbon offsets won’t cancel that out. But the world still beckons and not every place can be reached by eco-friendly means so it’s a start. And by doing so, you’re recognising and addressing the environmental impact of your decision to fly. Environmental websites like Friends of the Earth, MyClimate, WWF and The Nature Conservancy will calculate your emissions and show you how you can redistribute some of that cost to compensate for your carbon emissions.