If you have ever flown on a plane, you would have most likely heard this announcement. In some instances, the recyclable materials are separated from the garbage. But in most circumstances you would have noticed that the materials collected (e.g., newspapers, pop cans, cups, food, garbage, etc.) all end up in one big clear plastic bag. Waste management is a challenging area for the airline industry.
A report commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the average passenger created 1.28 lbs of waste. When meals were traditionally provided on board most of the containers, trays, and waste are collected and managed by the catering company. With a reduction of services provided by the airlines, passengers are bringing a more and diverse range of items on board. Another challenge identified by airlines is that not all airports operate the same waste management programs. This makes it difficult for crew to know which airports have what type of waste management system and how to separate the waste correctly.
Many times, travellers are crossing various international boarders and the waste brought into the country may pose a threat to local agriculture. Depending on the country entered, there may even be sanctions on bringing in items like newspapers and magazines. Restrictions on waste entry make it difficult for passengers and crew to help with waste diversion. Depending on the airport, the waste may be landfilled but often it is incinerated.
As passengers, there are a number of ways we can help reduce the amount of waste we create. Similar to the tips on packing a waste-free lunch, bring reusable beverage containers to fill after passing through airport security screening check-points. Keep in mind not to bring prohibited items. Also ensure food items are acceptable to be brought on board. Bring your own headphones to enjoy the in-flight entertainment. We can also encourage airline companies to take more action and address the issue of waste management.