The Ugly Truth about Airplanes and Plastic Pollution

Come on, come on. Fly away with us.


Let me start out by introducing myself, I’m a 31 year-old full-time flight attendant for one of the top ranked Canadian airlines. I was proudly born and raised on the west coast of Canada, where I call Vancouver Island home. I have much love and appreciation for our beautiful coastline, as well as a deep concern for the future of our oceans. Much like the wonderful team at Save the Mermaids, I care very much for our environment and do what I can to help protect it.

At home my family recycles, we ride our bikes and walk when we can, and my two sons and I pick up garbage at the beach and around our neighbourhood weekly. I keep a water bottle, a travel mug and re-usable shopping bags in my car at all times. Not to mention, my favourite pass-time is entirely eco-friendly: thrift shopping.

My work, however, makes me feel hypocritical sometimes because the airline industry has a reputation for being such a huge polluter. As an insider, I see the amount of waste first-hand and it is something I struggle with. But, there are definitely things each of us can do when we travel to cut down our impact. Plus, the tips I’m about to share will not only help the environment, but save you some coin as well!

Believe it or not, every airport I have ever been to has water-bottle filling stations. I still see people buying plastic water bottles at the airport on daily basis, but it just isn’t necessary. Not every airline or airport recycles, so always pack a re-usable water bottle (just make sure it’s empty before you get to security!) and fill it up before you get on the plane.

In addition to plastic bottle waste,  most airlines  throw out at least a million cups every month. So, a simple idea if you plan on having more then one beverage during your flight is to hang on to your cup and re-use it. Also, if you drink coffee you can bring your own travel mug on board. It warms my heart when people ask me to fill their cup with our  brew . 

I, for one, get my Judge Judy robe  on when I’m collecting garbage and one person gives me a coffee cup, a water bottle and a plastic sandwich container- it's hard to not say something when all these items could have avoided going into a landfill!

If you don't have a set of plastic cutlery that’s re-useable, I suggest getting one, as many airlines don't use metal cutlery anymore. It’s become a security risk, so unless you are in business or first class (which most of us can't afford) it's disposable throw away plastic for you. Personally, I have a spoon fork small knife combo with me always. You can get them at most camping equipment stores and they are security approved!

Another idea, to avoid producing any meal-related waste, is to just bring food from home instead of buying it at the airport or on the plane. Airline is usually packaged in Styrofoam packaging. Again, saves you money and saves more trash. Flight attendants typically bring meals from home and I love seeing what people have on board so I can steal their ideas. Easy foods to pack are ones that come in their own natural packaging, like fruits. Anything that fits in Tupperware is great though, like nuts (head’s up though, you may be asked to not consume them if someone on your flight has an allergy), hardboiled eggs, veggies and dip, avocados and protein shakes- just add water!

You can also pack your own blanket, ear-plugs and headsets. All these items get thrown out after the flight if they have been used. The amount of used headsets that get left on the plane and thrown out is outrageous! I mean really, it's 2015, who doesn't have a head set somewhere that they could bring? Even my dad, who still sports a Walkman, brings a headset onboard. It's bright yellow and black and embarrassing, but it’s also super eco-conscious because he’s had it since the mid-90’s.

In terms of other entertainment, if you’re like me and prefer the feel of a real newspaper, try sharing one with your neighbour to cut down on paper waste. Also, take it off the plane with you when you’re done and find a recycling bin for it because some airlines simply won’t guarantee that it makes it there otherwise.

Lastly, I’d advise people not to use the barf bags as their own personal trash bags. Although they are paper, we can't recycle them and they just add to the waste that's created on the plane.

I live on a plane over half a month and I don't use any products on board. I challenge anyone travelling, whether you’re on just one flight a year or a seasoned veteran, to be as environmentally friendly as you can. I bet that if you do these things not only will you feel great and inspire others but your flight crew will take notice and give you props as well!