Circular Travel: Flying

Traveling by air plane pollutes the environment, from emissions to all the single-use items that are disposed of by passengers on board. Most of us have family and friends around the globe, or we simply desire to travel somewhere else to experience different ways of being in the world. Thus we fly. Not all of us will give up air travel, but we can definitely reduce our waste while navigating airports and while onboard.

1. Eating Ware & Food Storage

Depending on where we are traveling and for how long will determine the contents of our waste-free eating ware and food storage items. For example, I recently spent 6 days in New York and Washington D.C. for the Women's March, and I'd never been there before. This prompted me to prepare for all situations (on and off the plane) requiring reusables, so I brought the following:

  • A mason jar for liquids, leftovers, and/or compost
  • A reusable utensil (metal spork)
  • A handkerchief to use as a napkin, sandwich wrap, or pastry plate
  • 2 reusable produce/bulk bags
  • A reusable glass container or metal tiffin to use as a plate/bowl
  • A reusable water bottle 

2. Composting 

I have yet to see a compost on a plane or in an airport. I brought snacks for the plane ride, and ate a banana, leaving me with a peel. I obviously could not give it to the stewardess, as it would go directly into the trash. Not to worry, I just plopped that peel into my mason jar and then composted it when I could. What if your destination doesn't have a compost? I have a two part solution for this, depending on which food scraps need to be composted. 

  1. Liquid or Soft Food: For anything liquid or soft like oatmeal, soup, etc, flush it down the toilet. Obviously don't flush anything down the toilet that would clog it or compromise the plumping in any manner. We throw-up in toilets when we're sick, so flushing some liquid or soft food down in a pinch is not a big deal. 
  2. Misshapen or Hard: For anything misshapen or hard like an apple core, banana peel, bread, etc., discretely dispose of in it nature. Whether that's under a bush, in a park, or in the forest, just make sure your disposal does not disrespect a shared space or look gross. When we return food scrapes to the earth, we allow them to continue in their circular process of decomposing, which in turn provides nutrients that helps plants grow. Everything is circular, and therefore connected. To read more about composting and why it's important, check out my post! 

3. Recycling

The crew on my recent flight to New York and back did not recycle. When they were doing "trash" collection, I saw garbage and metal cans all hitting the same bag. So, if we create any recycling while onboard, and see that the crew is not recycling, we can make sure to dispose of it after we exit the plane in a designated bin. We can then contact the airline and encourage them to re-design their waste management system. Recycling is basic, and hopefully they will be on board. Ha! 

4. Reusable Water Bottle

Having my reusable water bottle with me was essential. I made sure it was empty before going through security, and then found a water fountain in the terminal and filled it up before boarding. The water offered on the plane comes from a single-use plastic bottle. Sometimes they hand out small individual bottles, or pour from a larger one. This waste is easily avoided by filing up and rocking our own reusable water bottle!

If we forget to empty our water bottle before going through security, it will either get thrown away, or we have the option of taking it (empty) back through security. This could cause us to miss our flight.  

5. Checking Bags Vs. Carry On 

If we can avoid checking a bag then that's awesome, because checking a bag actually creates more waste. A sticker has to be printed displaying the flight number and destination of said bag. If we don't have a reusable bag identification tag, then one must be filled out. The more bags checked on a flight, the heavier the plane, and the more jet fuel burned; however, sometimes you just gotta check a bag.

6. Toiletries & Liquid Restrictions

Call me a rebel, but I've never adhered to the whole "you must display all your liquids in a quart sized clear plastic bag" rule. I'm not recommending that anyone follow my example of breaking this TSA guideline --just keepin it real. If you don't have a clear plastic bag, then ask one of your plastic-using friends if you can have one of theirs and take good care of it so you don't need another one.

7. Headphones & Blankets

While most airlines provide complementary headphones for inflight entertainment, they are unfortunately packaged in plastic. To avoid this waste, we can bring our own headphones. Flights can also get chilly, and if we request a blanket, they are also packaged in plastic. Who run the world? Plastic. But really, if we know that we are prone to inflight chills, we can pack a little travel sized blanket, or rock a giant coat, even if its the middle of summer...#coatlife.

8. Meals & Snacks

I think I speak for many when I say that airplane food is barf. It's also all shrink wrapped in plastic, and comes with a napkin, a plastic utensil, and individually plastic wrapped condiments. Maybe it's different in first class? Knowing this, we can pack a lunch in our reusable glassware or metal tiffin. If we don't remember to do this, then we can cross our fingers that a restaurant in the terminal (before we board) serves food on real plates, because I've tried to get food in my own container at a few airports, and they were not having it. I won't give up though. Persistence! 

If we're in for a short flight, we might prefer to pack some snacks. I like bringing dried fruit, nuts, and/or carrot sticks. Remember, if we have any compost, we can put it in our mason jar and properly return it to the earth once we land. 

When we fly, we usually have someone sitting next to us. If we are modeling circular behavior during the flight, we may just inspire someone to at least begin to think and question their own behavior around waste. It's these small actions that plant the seeds for tremendous growth and change.