J500 Media and the Environment


Say Goodbye to Single Serving Friends by jseverin

As we bounced through the turbulence somewhere over Nevada, our flight attendant announced that he would soon be serving the in-flight meal: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich doesn’t really count as a meal in my book, but I thought I would give it a try. And while I didn’t regret snacking on a childhood favorite, I couldn’t believe how much waste that decision was about to create.

I peeled open the cellophane wrapper and pulled out the plastic tray. Inside was an individually wrapped Smucker’s Uncrustables sandwich (do people really buy these?), a bag of baby carrots, and foil wrapped cookies. Shortly after that, the attendant brought by another plastic-wrapped plastic tray with vacuum-sealed salami, cellophane wrapped crackers, and a plastic container of cheese spread. In a matter of minutes I had generated a massive pile of non-recyclable petroleum-based waste. And while I didn’t spend much time looking at the individual labels, I can imagine I ingested more than a healthy amount of sodium, fat, and chemical preservatives in the process.

Chris Jordan
Image: Jet Trails, 2007 – Chris Jordan

With nearly 30,000 commercial flights a day in the US, we’re not only leaving a trail of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but mounds of garbage on the ground. The NRDC reports that US airlines throw out enough aluminum cans every year to build 58 Boeing 747’s. And that’s just the trash that’s recyclable. All told, airlines produce about 1.3 pounds of garbage per passenger. It seems like this industry has plenty of room for greening, starting with a few simple steps:

Recycle those aluminum cans: This is a no-brainer, but it isn’t happening. Airlines and airports could even save some money in the process.

Reconsider airline food – especially the packaging: Instead of everything being individually wrapped in plastic, perhpas airplane meals could be served in a compostable, compartmentalized paper tray sealed with 1 cellophane top. And all those aluminum cans could be eliminated by using a fountain-style dispenser instead of cans. One had been developed for the now defunct National Airlines, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else. (Perhaps the dispenser was part of their demise?)

Educate people about their options: While there may not be room for a full kitchen and dish set in the cabin of a plane, the overall waste could obviously be reduced by encouraging reusables. There is nothing wrong with packing your own reusable flatware, cups, and mugs.

Despite these simple steps, the biggest news in greening airlines these days seems to focus on reducing the carbon footprint of the industry through carbon offsets. Virgin Atlantic also recently made history by powering a flight from London to Amsterdam with a biofuel blend. But offsets don’t reduce carbon emissions and even Virgin admits that the biofuel they used isn’t the answer. Maybe they should start by getting rid of all of our single serving friends.

– Jeff Severin

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Excellent suggestions! It always kills me that businesses don’t see the amount of waste they generate as WASTED money.

But I will admit to buying Uncrustables once or twice in my life. They were the “grilled cheese” kind. Yes, it was a low point.

Comment by Lauren Keith

It seems like the airline industry is especially guilty of this. And while greenwashing with biofuels and offsets, they may actually be doing more damage by putting fewer people on more efficient plans.

Comment by jseverin

Terrific post and suggestions. One thing we have to ask is why is the airline industry so egregious? Consumers demand flights that leave on time, the changeover time between flights is scant, and the people charged with cleaning up flights are overworked. This does not justify this waste and you have provided excellent examples that do not require any more effort (but do require more money).
The reason is one with which we are all familiar: convenience. That means the proposed solutions not only have to reduce waste, but have to consider this important factor, as well.

Simran

Comment by j500

[…] Health” in Seattle. The flight on Southwest was disappointing to say the least, from an environmental perspective, but the conference was a green dream come true, thanks to a “sustainability […]

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