Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How to make flying more eco-friendly

Being green and trying to help save the planet has arguably never been as trumpeted, and there are tons of ways we can be more eco-friendly – but how can we offset the need to be environmentally conscious with the urge to travel? In the wake of an airline’s recent announcement that it is cutting down on plastic waste, here’s a look at how to make flying a bit more sustainable.

The Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly has started running flights that don’t use any single-use plastic, and its president, Paulo Mirpuri, has expressed his desire that the company becomes the first ‘plastics-free’ airline within 12 months. They’ve replaced single-use plastics like cups, sick bags and drinks bottles with items like bamboo cutlery and paper packaging, which can be composted. Noting that over 100,000 flights take off each day and that commercial aircraft carried nearly 4 billion passengers last year, a number expected to double in less than 20 years, Mirpuri stated that “the potential to make a difference here is clearly enormous.” Ryanair has also announced plans to go plastic-free in the coming years.

Green campaigners also want the government to get in on the action, and it has been suggested that flight levies could be a tool employed to make air travel both fairer and more sustainable

Reducing plastics is a positive step, but there are many more things an airline can do. Many flights by commercial airlines are nowhere near full. Empty seats on a plane equates to wasted fuel and unnecessary carbon emissions, so it’s also imperative for airlines to try and pack their flights. The shape of the plane is also key to reducing its fuel consumption. Adding winglets onto the ends of wings reduces consumption by 6%, and cutting down on elements like in-flight phones, magazines and heavier beverage carts has served to make flying that little bit more eco-friendly.

Development is also currently ongoing, looking into the possibility of more eco-flights. Electric and solar-powered planes have been successfully flown (although they’re a long way off being commercially viable). The likeliest alternative is biofuels. KLM recently flew a passenger jet from the Netherlands to Paris on biofuel, and EADS, the owner of Airbus, has flown planes running on algae biofuels. It may sound bizarre, but we may soon be taking planes powered by seaweed.

If every passenger left two pounds extra at home (roughly the equivalent of a pair of shoes), “the annual environmental impact from reduced fuel consumption is the equivalent to removing 10,500 cars from the road for an entire year”

Green campaigners also want the government to get in on the action, and it has been suggested that flight levies could be a tool employed to make air travel both fairer and more sustainable. In the UK, 93% of people fly less than once a year domestically, and 54% of people took no international flights at all. That means that a relatively small proportion of the UK population is flying much more than the rest, and thus their environmental impact through flying is correspondingly larger. One solution that has been proposed is a flight levy that rises as a person takes more and more flights, pressuring people and organisations that fly frequently to reduce their air travel.

Of course, being green isn’t just the responsibility of the airlines or the government – it’s also down to the individual traveller to make more eco-friendly choices when choosing to fly. So what steps can we take, aside from the obvious one of just flying less?

If you have the option between a direct flight and one with layovers, choose the former, because it’s going to use the least amount of fuel. We all know that more weight requires more fuel to transport (hence the need for weight restrictions), so make sure to pack lighter, only bringing the things you actually need. According the Ashton Morrow, a rep for Delta Airlines, if every passenger left two pounds extra at home (roughly the equivalent of a pair of shoes), “the annual environmental impact from reduced fuel consumption is the equivalent to removing 10,500 cars from the road for an entire year.”

The key measure that green groups recommend is using carbon offsets – paying for the CO2 emissions in another form, normally through tree planting

Those measures are fairly obvious, but there are some less apparent things you could do to help the environment while flying. One of these is lowering the window shades and opening the vents. These measures help to keep the plane cooler (by up to 10°C if every passenger did it), and reducing the cooling load saves energy and, consequently, reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

For many people, flights are so irregular that these little individual measures are, on the whole, essentially impactless in the grand scheme of things (not that it’s ever not worth being more environmentally conscious). The key measure that green groups recommend is using carbon offsets – paying for the CO2 emissions in another form, normally through tree planting. There are certified organisations where you can buy carbon offsets and, although it isn’t a way of making air travel sustainable, it does help reduce some of the damage.

If both travellers and airlines all play their part, we can cut down on the environmental impact of flying in more than one way. There’s no need to feel guilty about flying – but it would be useful for us all to keep in mind the little things one can do along the way to still make a difference.

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