I feel like a hypocrite every time I get on a plane


Jayde Atchison (she/her) // Opinions Editor

Celina Zhong (She/her) // Illustrator


In my apartment, I have a big container to place my paper, plastic and glass recyclables separately into. I have a compost container in my freezer, ensuring all scraps find a home there. I do what I can, what I’ve been told to do, in order to save the planet. Though I know the responsibility does not lay entirely on my shoulders, I still feel the pressure. While I do my part at home, I struggle to find an eco-friendly way to navigate the skies. 

Flying is inherently the least sustainable way to travel, yet thousands of people do it every day. It is a necessity for many travellers, and often is unavoidable. While some planes are friendlier for the environment than others, it still feels like a twisted joke to try and be environmentally conscious while operating any flight over three hours. 

If you’ve been on a plane that provides beverages, you will see flight attendants cracking open a lukewarm can of Coke, using it for a few guests and then placing the empty can back into their cart. Looks good, but what happens to all the cans once the service is done? I’m happy to let you know that unopened cans get to live another day and are left in the cart to be used during a future service. Any remaining soda or juice is dumped down the drain after each service and the cans are placed… into the garbage. 

On short flights with only one service, we are able to place the cans back in the carts and allow catering to do the required recycling. However, if we need to reuse the cart for a second service, those empty cans are taking up space from unopened cans and have to be thrown out because we have nowhere to store them. Unfortunately, when anything goes into the garbage bins on a plane, that’s where everything will end up. There is no one sorting through the bags on the ground or at a facility. 

However, many flight attendants try to maintain the least amount of waste as possible. We have been shown that the catering company that collects the service carts does put any opened can, carton or bottle into proper recycling bins before restocking. This has motivated many of us to shove anything we can into each cart at the end of the flight, hoping we alleviated even a tiny percentage of the guilt. 

When it comes to containers, some are willing to go the extra mile and some aren’t. I don’t blame them because there is not enough time t to go through and be meticulous about where everything is being thrown out. An average flight time between Vancouver and Calgary is an hour and seven minutes. Having to serve roughly 174 people and collect their garbage? It’s a race against time. Additionally, turbulence is a regular occurance in my life and it is simply not feasible to get through the cabin or organize the carts safely. While I want the planet to be habitable for years to come, safety is my number one priority. 

Unfortunately, along with an iffy at best recycling program in the sky—any fresh food that is not purchased or eaten is ultimately tossed after each flight. It feels like a kick to the gut every time I see it happen, and wish I had brought tupperware to save something for myself. Due to food regulations, it’s understandable, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. 

Realistically, it shouldn’t have to be up to the crew to make each flight as environmentally sustainable as possible because our office is a fuel-driven beat 40,000 feet in the sky. A couple cans of Sprite slipping through the cracks are the least of our worries when we step onto a Boeing.

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