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Environmentally Friendly Airlines? While It Sounds Far Fetched, It May Be in Our Future

Public transport is a great thing, at least when it’s reliable. But with the sheer amount of people who take public transport — motor coaches alone account for 751 million passenger trips annually — there is one problem with public transportation: its environmental impacts.

Specifically, the amount of garbage it produces. More specifically, how much waste is derived from the millions of airplane trips made around the world every single day.

According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines produced 5.2 million tons of waste alone last year, and that number is set to grow to more than 10 million tons by the year 2030.

So what exactly is all this waste? Statistics show that this number encompasses everything from plastic toothbrushes, blankets, and a special airplane pillow. But the majority of the waste comes directly from food service — everything including wine bottles, plastic bags, and leftover food.

Travel experts say that there are actually a couple of reasons why all this waste is produced. There are a few factors, including the sheer number of passengers, international health regulations, space regulations on board, and differing governmental waste policies. Not to mention that the airline has to plan ahead for food safety, hygiene, freshness, and weight restrictions when prepping their food beforehand. Thus, there’s a lot of plastic on board.

“Dining in the sky is quite different [than] popping down to your local cafe,” Mark Ross-Smith, an airline consultant, explains to CNN Travel. “Individual wrapping is required to keep food fresh, hygienic and free from contamination. Anyone who has eaten a bread roll on a plane that has been out of wrapping for more than a few minutes can attest to how dry air affects food quality!”

However, the airlines are trying to figure out unique ways to cut down on the amount of waste they produce. Some are developing recycling programs, like Scandinavian Airlines, which is starting to implement locally sourced food into their meals along with reusable plates and silverware. Quantas Airlines is using recycled plastic material for their flatware and is offering plastic-free headsets. Additionally, Emirates Airlines is providing blankets made from recycled plastic bottles, which they estimate will save 12,000 tons of bottles from landfills by 2019. These initiatives are in the process of being implemented.

If anything, these initiatives show that airlines are reacting to the demands of eco-conscious travelers.

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