The Lowdown on Low Waste Air Travel

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Since I have been jetting in and out of the country non-stop since last summer (taking about 20+ flights since), my carbon emissions have not exactly been the lowest.  Whilst I adjust to routines and everyday living (graduate job applications aren’t too thrilling, in case you are wondering), I look back on my many air travel experiences in different countries, sharing with you below ways in which I made it as low waste and sustainable as possible.

Firstly, I want to address that I am more likely to be using the term “low waste” than “zero waste” from now on.  Why?  Because I am currently not living “zero” waste: I still use toilet paper, electric toothbrushes (and their plastic heads), beauty products, and some packaged food items.  However, the journey to low waste living is most important – and that is what I would like to highlight in this blog; my attempt in living a lower waste life will be documented, and I hope it inspires others to do the same – to realise big actions are not necessary to make a positive impact.  And growth over perfection any day. 

Now onto making your next trip more environmentally-friendly.

Food

Depending on the airport you’re travelling from, I found most places allow dry food through the security and baggage checks.  Previously, I have packed rice-based salads (no dressing), pasta dishes, fruit (bananas and apples), nuts and dried fruits (figs, dates and raisins) to keep me satisfied on short (2/3 hours) to longer (11 hours) flights.  Home-made snacks such as crunchy chickpeas (recipe soon!) have also found a space on my carry-on.  I also stick to vegetarian/vegan meals on longer flights, so I may not have packed enough food to last me the whole duration, but I have a viable back-up plan – plus, I usually get served first too. 

Not only have I saved money from the tempting snacks at a slightly discounted price in the airport, I have also produced less waste than necessary.  I also bring a silver spoon and fork.  I have never brought a cloth napkin or stainless steel straw with me previously, but I’d be making that upgrade on my next journey. 

Drinks

I have carried my glass Consol bottle with me everywhere before, but I had to downsize whilst in India, so I was forced to abandon it in a little guesthouse in Hampi.  Instead, I carry empty BPA-free plastic bottles these days with a nozzle and lid to ensure the contents will not spill.

Depending on the airline you are flying with, I found that it is best to fill water bottles before boarding the flight: usually toilets are near water fountain/re-fill stations. 

As for hot drinks: only buy a drink where you can sit down and enjoy your cup of coffee.  A lot of coffee cups used are not recyclable/compostable (unless it is Pret…) to my knowledge, so it is best to avoid these places.  I’d be interested to know any other coffee stations around the world that offer compostable coffee cups!  Next time, I am definitely investing in a KeepCup to bring with me, and will investigate the ease with which airlines are willing to comply with my low waste principles. 

Boarding passes /tickets

Many airlines these days appreciate that not everyone have access to printers, so they have developed apps for digital boarding passes.  Unfortunately, some flights do not operate this way, and continue to issue and accept paper boarding passes only.  In this instance, printing on recycled paper or recycling the boarding passes are good alternatives. 

Comfort / entertainment

I bought a large grey scarf with me whilst in the Himalayas, which I found doubles as a blanket very nicely.  I carry this with my carry-on, along with any chargers, headphones and books I have for in-flight entertainment. 

I tend not to open the free headphones, wrapped blankets, or any other freebies which come packaged!  It is tempting to accept these goods, but they are usually not very good quality anyway, I find, so I always use my own. 

Stress-free journey

I have missed flights and experienced long delays previously.  Now, I cannot plan for this, so in order to keep my travels low waste, I try to drink coffee in cafes, re-fill my water bottles continuously, look for fruit for snacks, and eat at a proper restaurant rather than take-away food.  It’s important to keep your travels stress-free, so when a problem ensues, I found it best to use my intuition and deal with setbacks as I face them. 

So what do I carry on my carry-on? (an Eastpak backpack or a Longchamp tote)

  • All my technology: laptop, mobile phone, camera, Kindle, and respective chargers.
  • Food.
  • Empty water bottle.
  • Passport and other documents (also digital copies as PDFs on my Kindle).
  • Headphones.
  • A small jumper.
  • A scarf which doubles as a small blanket.
  • Purse: money, ID, bank card.
  • A book.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • I have carried face wipes before – I’d be interested to find out how people clean their faces (with/without make-up) whilst on a long-haul flight.  I have thought of bringing a muslin cloth and a small container of my cleanser before. 

I’d love to hear how you keep your air travel zero/low waste.  How can I improve for my next holiday?

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