A Zero Waste Guide to Airports and Flying
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Let me just start out by prefacing this article by acknowledging the fact that flying is extremely bad for the environment. Like many modes of transportation, taking a trip in a plane has a huge carbon footprint and ideally should be avoided as much as possible. On the flip side though, I personally believe that in order to create more peace and inter-governmental cooperation, we need to further our cultural understanding by traveling to other places in the world.
For many people (myself included) flying is also the only way we can visit family that lives in other countries. That's why, as a zero waster, I need to consider, how can I fly but still uphold my environmental beliefs? Let's take a look at some of the many things we can do to reduce our waste (and environmental impact) while flying.
Fly Less and for Longer
The first way to reduce the impact of flying is to reduce how much we fly. We need to fly less but also travel for longer. What I mean is, instead of flying out to visit your sister three times a year for a week each, could you fly once for three weeks? Could you condense three different vacations to Europe into one long summer backpacking trip? I admit, that is easier said than done. And truth be told, I still fly as much now as I did five years ago before going zero waste (I'm not perfect!). So for those of you that keep on traveling, what else can be done?
Purchase Carbon Offsets
One way to reduce the impact of flying is to purchase carbon offsets. If you haven't heard of them before, it's basically the idea of donating your money to a company that works to sequester carbon emissions from the air through technology, planting trees, improving transportation, etc. Many websites offer carbon offset calculators that will tell you how much carbon each of your flights produced. You can then choose to "purchase" carbon offsets equal to that much carbon. A word of caution though, remember that carbon offsets aren't helping the planet, they're just trying to take away the damage you just did by flying. So I wouldn't recommend only purchasing carbon offsets and stopping there. Many people also take their money and donate it to local non-profits creating community gardens or protecting forests. You don't have to necessarily go to a site that sells "carbon offsets" in order to have your money make a difference.
Pack Less Stuff
The heavier a plan is, the more fuel it has to use to get it up in the air. In order then to increase the fuel efficiency of a plane, passengers should consider packing as little stuff as possible. If you already have a minimalist wardrobe, that can be pretty easy! But it's also easy to fall into the trap of over packing especially when you're not sure what climate or activities to expect. However with a little practice, you can get down to a carry-on bag and still have all the essentials. And as a bonus, you won't have to pay for those checked bag fees any more either!
Take Snacks on the Plane
As anyone who has flown knows, plane food is wrapped in plastic. Literally. I don't think I've ever seen a single item not in plastic there. If you want then to be able to eat on the plane, I highly suggest you bring your own snacks! I recommend things like nuts, granola, fruit, sandwiches, and anything else you might be craving! I once brought tofu and rice as well as homemade pizza with me.
A couple things to remember about bringing snacks though! I recommend not bringing fruit or veggies that you have to peel unless you know you'll have access to compost where ever you're going. I always pre-cut my apples and peel my oranges or bananas before hand so I can guarantee that they get composted in my home. Also, if you're flying into another country, it's best not to over pack on snacks for the plan because you might not be able to take them through customs on the other side! Pack just enough to eat while flying and check your host country's rules for bringing in things like nuts, fruits, or other bulk snacks.
Bring Your Zero Waste Kit
Along with the idea of bringing your own snacks, it's important too that you are equipped with your zero waste kit when you need it. Even though some airlines are waking up and starting to do things like recycle or eliminate plastic straws, it's still best to come prepared! Since you can't bring water through security, make sure to pack your water bottle and coffee mug if you want a drink on the other side. Also, don't forget your reusable utensils and napkins to eat your yummy snacks with! I recommend you bring the following:
Water filter (if traveling to someone with unsafe drinking water)
Containers for snacks
Container for compost (if not crossing into another country)
By implementing the above tips, you will start your trip off as a consciousnesses traveler! Your flying will still have an impact on the planet, but by adjusting how frequently you fly, offsetting the carbon emissions, and avoiding waste production, your trip will be a lot more environmentally friendly! Don't forget to think about how you are going to reduce the impact of your hotel stay or camping trip too! Flying there is just the beginning...