53% of global travelers wanted to travel more sustainably in the future, as “Coronavirus has opened their eyes to humans’ impact on the environment,” according to one global research report released by Booking.com. With another 69% of respondents saying that they expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options, there’s no doubt that the airline industry impacts the environment in a major way. From how air travel impacts the environment in multiple ways to what’s being done about it, here’s what you should know before planning your next trip.
A Massive Impact
On its own, air travel is responsible for 3.5% of the world’s global warming, according to an expert analysis conducted by Our World in Data. That said, air travel puts pressure on the natural environment in different ways. Jet fuel, for instance, puts out significant amounts of greenhouse gasses (including carbon dioxide).
The industry impacts the environment via logistics (aka the waste that airports themselves contribute), as well as through producing excessive waste in-cabin. In fact, the average plane passenger will produce three pounds of waste in a single flight, according to the New York Times, highlighting just how much waste is created. While initiatives such as having passengers pre-order meals before boarding can aid in reducing unnecessary waste, there are other measures out there that can further aid in making a positive change.
While many airlines have had climate goals for years, many domestic airlines have recently announced a goal to eventually reduce their respective companies’ carbon emissions to net zero. Regarding the goals, Alan Stolzer, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, tells the Washington Post “I’ve heard some companies say 2030, which may be ambitious, but I would say 2050 is definitely feasible.”
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that this may be challenging. The Washington Post notes that boosting access to sustainable aviation fuels is promising in making flights more eco-friendly, with airlines using an impressive 13 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuels in 2019. With additional ways to reduce emissions including retiring older aircrafts and updating air traffic routes in order to be more fuel efficient, there’s no question that implementing major changes is easier said than done.
In regards to airlines that are taking steps to become more fuel efficient, Qantas has recently announced a partnership with Airbus to invest up to $285 million to establish a sustainable aviation fuel industry in Australia. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), are biofuels, also known as “renewable diesel.” Made from a range of alternate oils, fats and grease (such as waste animal fats and cooking oil), SAFs wouldn’t require major alterations to aircraft that already exist, making them much more practical than other alternatives, like hydrogen.
A Zero-Waste Approach?
When it comes to dramatically reducing the sheer amount of waste involved with flying, it’s worth keeping in mind that doing so is entirely possible, and has already been tried by a few airlines. Qantas, for instance, operated the first ever commercial no waste to landfill flight back in May of 2019.
The flight involved replacing 1,000 single-use plastic products with sustainable alternatives, utilizing eco-friendly methods like composting and recycling. The flight generated just 600g of waste — a major improvement from the typically generated 34kg of waste. Also in 2019, United Airlines debuted their “Flight for the Planet,” an eco-friendly flight that put a number of environmentally friendly measures to the test.
The flight included healthy meals that were served on recyclable or compostable plates, hot beverages which were served in recyclable paper cups, and even compostable cutlery, with the goal of reducing cabin waste to zero. With the result of just 14 pounds of passenger garbage (compared to the average 65 pounds taken off of a United flight), additional eco-friendly measures taken on the flight were also taken. The flight also featured the use of 30% biofuel, which was made from agricultural waste, and the pilots used single engine taxi procedures rather than the standard two.
There’s no doubt that air travel generally results in a number of negative effects towards the environment. However, through ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions and waste on board, there are a number of initiatives working to make changes in favor of the environment.