Plastic waste - Flying - Passenger

Plastic waste – the aircraft bellies full of garbage weigh increasingly heavily on our stomachs

Esther Nestle
10.03.2020
4 minutes

Many people flying towards their destination – crammed for hours in a confined space – produce a lot of garbage. Masses of garbage in airliners multiply; they highlight the waste problem like a magnifying glass. The people? They leave the plane garbage-free. The airlines? Their job is to get rid of the garbage – somehow, somewhere. Special challenge? The disposal of plastic waste.

5.8 billion kilograms of passenger trash. Annually!

An unbelievable 1.43 kilos of waste is left behind by the average passenger on a plane (source IATA). Extrapolated, our collected air travel puts a 5.8 billion kilo garbage block on our planet every year, and the trend is rising. The lion’s share? Plastic. The cups are made of plastic, the lids on salad boxes are made of plastic, the cutlery packaging, the cutlery itself, the covers for blankets and for disposable headphones, which are “naturally” also made of plastic and and and …

To get this point right:

Plastic waste is a global problem with many causes and facets. Pointing the finger at aircraft operators is not enough. As already mentioned in the intro: The lifestyle practiced in commercial airliners is something like the mirror of our society – here, in the smallest of spaces and under “extreme” conditions, it shows what we humans are like. Nobody can expect waste avoidance miracles from the airlines. In the end, they do exactly what we passengers are prepared to pay for. Above all, all parties want one thing: cheap.

Aircraft cabin
© Pixabay Stocksnap 2594469

Annoying and painful

Plastic is stubborn to eliminate, like sea urchin spines in the sole of the foot. This whole plastic garbage topic – by no means only the air passenger garbage – twinges our social conscience increasingly. The airlines get rid of the stuff in landfills or in waste incinerators (hello air pollution …). However, hardly any passenger waste goes into the recycling cycle.

Aggravating circumstances spit into the plastic soup of the airlines.

The airlines are bound by the plastic avoidance obligation, no question. They operate under aggravating circumstances:

1. Air hygiene. Where many people are together in the smallest of spaces, cleanliness and the avoidance of germs are the top priority (especially in times of pandemics like Corona). With film seals, airlines can guarantee hygienically perfect packaging!

2. Plastic cups, plates and cutlery weigh little. Do you see the ambivalence? Less plastic does not automatically mean more environmental protection. The more weight, the higher the kerosene consumption.

3. Hygiene on the floor: In-flight catering from intercontinental destinations must either be incinerated or buried deep in landfills. Take kitchen waste, for example – most countries classify this as high-risk waste. The country rules for airlines are rigorous in this respect.

landfill - plastic waste
© Pixabay Prylarer 879437

Less plastic waste – what do airlines do? Examples.

Comfort items without plastic cover

More and more airlines are saying goodbye to shrink-wrapping various comfort items. Slippers, woollen blankets and headphones are handed out to passengers without plastic covers.

For Example Delta Airlines – most of the utensils are handed out to the passengers by the US airline without plastic covers – Delta Airlines recently replaced plastic straws with those made of bamboo and birch wood.

Biodegradable eating utensils

Reusable tableware

Several airlines are testing the use of reusable plastic dishes, including Lufthansa.

Pre-order in-flight catering

Only what is really consumed is brought aboard. A small lever with great effect! Many airlines now use this lever.

How passengers can avoid plastic waste.

Even passengers are not at the mercy of the mountain of aero waste.

We can bring our own drinking bottle and have the staff refill it again and again. We don’t have to use everything that is offered to us: Do we really need the shrink-wrapped toiletry bag and the disposable earplugs? We can even bring food from home: The homemade sandwich tastes better than the cardboard roll encased in plastic – and it is probably healthier, too…

Cover picture @ Pixabay FunFunFun 676489

by Esther Nestle

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