Airport Waste, What’s Up with That?

I try to make jokes in my titles, but what’s new? Absolutely nothing.

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent a lot of time in airports. From 7 AM to after 10 PM, I was in an airport last Saturday, so I grew accustomed to the surroundings and got in a lot of time for people-watching, a pastime I’m quite good at. Besides that, I saw and noticed some things I wasn’t a big fan of and yet struggle to think of a viable means of changing it. That alone really bugs me. I want to be able to identify a problem and immediately know an answer or at least figure one out, but this one is slightly unavoidable without some major changes.

The problem I’m referring to is the vast amount of waste at airports and on flights themselves. I can also complain about the ridiculous prices found in every store and restaurant, with a single packaged salad costing me just over ten dollars. When you have an attentive audience with no other choices available, of course that is the case. And it’s not practical to bring full meals to an airport when space in a carry-on is so precious.

Literally every single thing to buy or given out is wrapped in plastic. It makes sense when you have so many people to serve at a time, there’s nowhere to wash potential dishes. You can’t help but be an active participant unless you want to starve.

Fuel-wise, that’s none of my business. I’m talking about the places where travelers are directly involved. Ones that we have no choice but contribute to. It helped me knowing I brought a reusable canteen to fill with coffee and water, but beyond that, the food I brought with me and bought all had wrappers and packaging I had to discard.

Through the Federal Aviation Association (FAA.gov), I came across some more information regarding recycling. Out of all the wastes mentioned, I am primarily focused on the “Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) consisting of everyday items that are used and then discarded, such as product packaging, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, and newspapers.” However, there are so many other streams of waste involved in running a successful airport, from passengers, employees, aircraft operations, aircraft food services, and more.

And most of the work involved to make the entire operation more sustainable resides in the airport management itself. This includes requiring vast numbers of recycling bins and using compostable packaging. Certain airports are making their efforts toward reducing total energy used. For example, to reduce the weight of trash, travelers at San Francisco International Airport are asked to empty their water bottles in a receptacle prior to passing through TSA check points where liquid in drinking water bottles is prohibited. The collected water is then directed down a sink drain instead of being added to the other regular trash reducing the weight of the trash. When the weight of trash is reduced, it is less costly to dispose of. That also translates into less energy used to dispose of water weight in the trash waste stream.

But with certain changes come their own sets of challenges. To cohesively be less wasteful, an airport has to go through multiple vendors and entities to do so, a complicated process. Having my waste facilities, even more sustainable ones, take up space and require maintenance can turn into an afterthought. The people present at the airport come from every language and culture, so airports have to keep a very wide audience base in mind. Even human nature itself, always looking for the fastest, easiest way possible in every situation, can make recycling and reducing waste less desirable, no matter how necessary it is.

Okay, so everything thus far has to deal with airports themselves, but what about travelers? What can we do to lessen our waste? That will require preparation. You can’t go into the situation and expect to be sustainable because it’s tough. Don’t bring a full water bottle and expect to drink it all before you get through security. Wait to refill it once you’re waiting at your gate. Have some snacks and entertainment with you already so you don’t have to find things. If they’re in reusable containers like Mason jars or e-books, even better. If you know you have a place to do laundry later, bring a cloth napkin or handkerchief if you’re feeling wild. If your main incentive here is to save some money, you’ll be saving the world of some waste, too. Win-win.

This was my first time really traveling by myself, so I wasn’t as sustainable as I could be, but as I look forward to future traveling, I want to try my best to reduce as much waste as possible. Hopefully I’m not the only one in this boat because it’s important. If we’re making an effort toward sustainability in our homes, why not apply those principles to every other place? And the time to do that is now.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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