Advice from a Flight Attendant: How to Fly with Less Plastic

By Bao Yen

As a flight attendant, traveling on a plane has somewhat different meaning than simply going on a happy journey like most holidaymakers do. Every flight, I witness a massive amount of waste. Plastic, along with other recyclables, almost always end up in landfills.

For a mid-and-long range flight (over 9-hours flying), at least two drinks and two meals are served. Each passenger in Economy class consumes approximately four plastic cups, if not more. For 777-ER and Airbus aircraft, there are close to 300 seats in Economy cabin. To use a simple calculation, there are estimated over 1,000 plastic cups and 500 water bottles consumed on each flight. The airline I work for has close to 100 mid-and-long range flights inbound and outbound Hong Kong each day.

You may be wondering what happen to those recyclables. The inconvenient truth: most of the recyclables are not recycled due to time, manpower, and space constraints. Recycling is costly and time-consuming, which conflicts with the nature of aviation business that puts speed and efficiency as their top priority.

The plastic trash you leave behind will likely end up in landfills or as the news often indicates, in the stomach of precious ocean mammals. Sad! I can be so depressed doing each and every flight thinking about the poor whales. Nevertheless, we all must do what we can to make a real and profound change.

How can we be a responsible travelers?

1. Bring your own water bottles and tumblers when you travel. There are many trendy, easy-to-carry reusable and collapsible cups available in the market. By bringing your own cup, you can save as many as four cups on a flight that might end up in landfills or in the ocean.

2. Even if you forget about bringing your own bottles, REUSE the ones in the flight. Cabin crew, under a premium service concept, will replace your cup with a new one once you finish off your drink. Save the cup and reuse it. To do more, bring it down and put in the recycle bin yourself.

3. Lastly, SHARE this article and bring a real change in every possible way. Everyone one of us matters in saving our one and only planet and another whale from dying because of plastic pollution.

Bao Yen is a flight attendant and environmentalist from Taiwan. 

Photo: (Reuters/Albert Gea) Plastic trash overflows at Barcelona’s El Prat Airport 

See also: What can we do about plastic pollution and air travel?

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0 responses to “Advice from a Flight Attendant: How to Fly with Less Plastic”

  1. Morgane says:

    I really appreciate your post, as I myself try to do every little thing I can to reduce my trash consumption.
    I understand, that the flight attendings have to replace the cup, to follow a certain standard.
    However, we see now everywhere in hotels this little sticker in bathrooms, saying that we can help save water by not getting our towels cleaned every day. At the same time, they are still giving us the opportunity to have them cleaned anyway, for example by leaving them on the floor.
    Can’t we imagine something similar in planes?
    Of course, hotels have a much bigger interest in this, as they themselves probably save quite some money and working time by this measure, and I don’t know how much money the flying company would save with plastic cups…

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