Flying, food and climate change: is it possible to travel plastic-free?

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Aeroplane in a clear, cloudless sky

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef

Flying is such a privilege. When I’m above cotton wool cumulus and below streaky cirrus, I can’t help marvelling at how lucky I am to see this.

I’m heading to Germany on a work trip, and the flight is early – so early that the sun rises while we’re in the air.

If you’re wondering whether I should be flying at all, given its environmental impact, I hear you. But I’ve chosen to do it this time, so I may as well enjoy it.

Flying over flat Dutch fields, which are crisscrossed with gleaming waterways, I think about how I don’t want us to lose this beautiful country to the rising sea.

During the short transfer in Amsterdam, Schiphol airport hums with the satisfying whizz of solar-powered buses. And yet, it’s seemingly impossible to buy water that’s not in silly little plastic bottles or served in plastic cups that are destined for the flight attendant’s bin bag.

Air travel is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. But here’s the thing: we need it, and we’re not going to give it up.

If me and my fellow primates aboard this brilliant plastic sky ship have anything in common, it’s our love – if that’s a strong enough word – of convenience. If time and money didn’t constrain us, maybe more of us would do the 10+ hour drive to our European destination of choice. Then again, maybe we wouldn’t. And anyway, they are a constraint for almost everyone.

Yes, we could give up flying altogether, but we won’t. At best, we’ll probably reduce how much we fly, and try to find ways to offset the impact of flying.

Luckily, solving the plastic problem is a lot easier than fixing the problem of flying.

Single use plastics and travelling

Two flights, one plastic sandwich wrapper, and one plastic water glass later, I’m in Starbucks. I order green tea, and the teabag arrives in a little plastic sachet. Sigh.

We need to visualise another way; a way that works. We need to make plastic the inconvenient choice.

When we become so overwhelmed with planet-friendly alternatives that it’s virtually impossible to avoid them, we’ll use them; it’s as simple as that.

While it can be super depressing when businesses conspire to drown our travels in plastic for their convenience, I think the benefits of (occasional) travel are enormous.

For me, the beauty lies in getting out of my own head, remembering that other cultures are rich and exciting, that the world is beautiful and needs to be protected, and that so many of us are concerned about climate change and ready to take action (the lovely Germans I met were no exception).

Now that I’ve been reducing plastic in my life for a few months, I’ve realised that all you can do is your best. After all:

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef

Photo by Andre Tan on Unsplash

What do you think? Let me know!