Airlines Have A Huge Plastic Waste Problem And No One Can Fix It Alone

Laura Paddison
A in-flight meal is seen here on board a flight from Europe to the U.S. in economy class.

Boarding a plane, you settle into a seat, perhaps pulling a blanket and pillow from plastic wrapping to get more comfortable. You take the flimsy plastic headphones offered by the flight attendant, accept some juice in a plastic bottle, with a plastic cup and stirrer, and settle in to pick at the in-flight meal, arranged in an assortment of plastic containers, using the plastic cutlery you’ve unwrapped from its plastic packet.

It’s a familiar scene for those who fly, especially on long-haul flights, and it’s a big environmental problem.

“The sheer amount of waste that comes from inside the planes is staggering,” says David (not his real name), a flight attendant for a regional carrier owned by American Airlines. “Plastic cups, cans and boxed juices, some of them opened and maybe one cup poured from them then thrown out, plastic wrappers for snacks, cocktail straws, napkins ... and none of it recycled,” he tells HuffPost. “This all comes on top of the environmental impact the flight alone has.”

Watch: Here’s how climate change affects natural disasters. Story continues below. 

 

As more people are becoming aware of aviation’s intensive carbon footprint ― it’s responsible for two per cent of global human-caused carbon emissions ― a growing number have started to question whether they should be flying at all. The “flight shame” movement, bubbling up from the Nordic countries, is gaining strength across the world as it becomes more common for people to say they are cutting back on flying, with some quitting altogether.

But even as flygskam (Swedish for flight shame) becomes a recognizable term, global passenger numbers are not falling. Around 4.3 billion passengers flew in 2018, up 6.1 per cent from the previous year, and around 4.5 billion passengers flew in 2019. Passenger numbers will nearly double by 2037, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts.

And as more people fly, the sheer scale of the waste they produce...

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