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zero waste travel: your in-flight how-to guide

zero waste travel: your in-flight how-to guide

Written by Local Time

Every passenger on a long-haul flight generates over a pound of single-use plastic waste.

It’s an alarming statistic that’s flown under the radar and passed for the status quo. Earlier this year, as part of a London Design Museum expo, design firm PriestmanGoode endeavored to redesign various throwaway cabin service goods to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced onboard. In doing so, it exposed that an estimated 5.7 million tons of cabin waste is annually produced on global passenger flights.

Most waste that we generate during a flight is so subtle we barely notice it – the little plastic baggie that our sleeping mask is wrapped in, those complimentary earphones, the drink napkin that appeared under our plastic beverage cup that we didn’t even use.

Our greatest power inflight is to simply refuse the options where waste comes up – and remember, most airlines do not recycle. (That said, there’s a trend afoot to change the status quo, read on to see who’s inspiring us.)

Until the elegant onboard design solutions proposed by PriestmanGoode become industry standard, the two zero waste mantras you’ll want to activate in flight are: Reduce and Refuse. Here are some moments waste can be refused – because you’ve come prepared.

When the drink cart arrives:

  • Refuse drinks offered in a plastic cup; instead ask that they refill your reusable mug or water bottle.
  • Refuse the snacks wrapped in packaging; you’ve got your own in your reusable containers.
  • Refuse the paper drink napkin; if you have a spill you’ve got your quick dry hand towel.
  • Refuse the straw if you’re having a cocktail; instead opt for your reusable straw.
  • Refuse the plastic stirrer for coffee or tea.
  • Refuse that Styrofoam coffee cup by all means!
  • Recycle beverages that are served in an aluminum can. If you want a beverage and your water bottle is full, refuse the plastic cup and ask for the entire can; remember, most airlines do not recycle, so when you land, carry the can off the plane with you and recycle it at the airport.

When you need to be entertained:

  • Refuse the complimentary headphones – you’ve brought your own for inflight entertainment.

When you’re flying internationally:

  • Refuse to use the airline-provided, plastic-wrapped bedding – you’ve got your own scarf-blanket.
  • Refuse the complementary plastic-wrapped eye-mask.
  • Refuse the First Class gift bag – while it’s a cheap thrill to get free stuff, you won’t actually need anything in the kit if you’ve been thinking zero waste ahead of time.

Who’s inspiring us: Airlines leading the low waste trend

  • Air New Zealand: Last month, the airline eliminated coffee lids, plastic bags, sauce packets – even cheese trays – from flights, committing that single use plastics will be replaced with reusable options (think sauce dishes instead of packets and plant-based cups). This represents ditching some 55 million plastic items from flights, and saving an estimated half a million plastic bottles from the landfill every year.
  • Qantas: The airline trialed a zero waste commercial flight last May from Sydney to Adelaide – the airline aims to reduce plastics sent to landfill by 75% by 2021. This includes removing 100 million single-use plastic items every year, replacing 45 million plastic cups, 30 million cutlery sets and 21 million coffee cups, among other items.
  • Etihad Airways (second largest in the United Arab Emirates) pledged to reduce its single-use plastics by 80 percent by 2020. Last earth day it became the first airline to fly a single-use plastic free flight on an ultra-long haul trip (Abu Dhabi to Brisbane, Australia), preventing over 50 kilograms of plastics from being landfilled.
  • Ryanair, the European budget airline, pledges to become ‘plastic free’ on all flights in the next five years. This includes switching to wooden cutlery, biodegradable cups and paper packaging onboard.


Up next in our zero waste travel series: how to think like a local when you’re abroad
Stay tuned for the next tips guide in our five-part series, posting next week. In case you missed it, view the first posts in our series:

1 zero waste travel: how to create a zero waste mindset

2 zero waste travel: how to pack for any adventure

3 zero waste travel: tips at the airport