After taking out your neck pillow and getting comfortable in your seat (while knowing the proper etiquette around reclining your airplane seat, of course), it’s time to relax. You’ve already heard the stories of why you shouldn’t eat airplane food (and no, it’s not because of how it tastes), but let’s say you’ve made the conscious decision to order an in-flight meal. What happens once you’re finished with your food but there’s still a bit leftover?
The unfortunate reality is that most uneaten foods are incinerated or end up in landfills. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association with a membership of around 290 airlines, in 2018, airlines in the United States and across the globe created 6.1 million tonnes (the equivalent of 6.7 million U.S. tons) of waste. This is an increase from the previous year in 2017 when airlines created 5.7 million tonnes (the equivalent of 6.3 million U.S. tons) of waste. As more people are traveling, the IATA estimates that in the next decade, the amount of waste could double. This is a huge issue globally, as more people flying means more people generating waste. For perspective, according to the United States Environment Protection Agency, “40.7 million tons of food waste was generated in 2017.” Of that 40.7 million tons, only 6.3 percent was composted.
Thankfully, airlines are now recognizing the need to help reduce waste and recycle. Airlines like Alaska Airlines, Air New Zealand, JetBlue, Ryanair, and Qantas are committed to reducing waste through innovative practices and ambitious goals like encouraging passengers to bring refillable water bottles and rolling out coffee cups made with plant-based materials instead of plastics.
So what can you do, personally? One thing you could do is reduce the number of times you fly—like when Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg decided to travel across the ocean instead of boarding a plane last August. More people are learning about the Swedish flygskam, or “flight shame,” which discourages people from flying and instead encourages more economical modes of transportation. It’s taken off across Europe and is slowly moving across the pond to the states. Luckily, there are even more simple swaps to help you reduce your carbon footprint further.
If you’re not in the mood to eat plane food, you’re not alone. The late chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain refused to eat airplane food, telling Bon Appetit, “No one has ever felt better after eating plane food. I think people only eat it because they’re bored.” Now, read on for even more airplane trivia you’ve always wondered about.