zero waste air travel

the green walnuts - zero waste air travel view
Air travel is not really a sustainable alternative to get around, no question. However, if you find yourself on a plane, you can at least try to minimise your impact as much as possible.

When we booked our summer vacation last year, I found this article: “How each one of us contributes to Arctic ice melt.“ One of the things that shocked me: on a return flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco, each person will cause 5 cubic metres arctic ice to melt. Well, guess where we were heading…

After my semester abroad in New Zealand, I intentionally avoided air travel as much as possible. My carbon footprint was way to high already… The thing is, I still take the occasional flight if I cannot find a suitable alternative, especially if the country is further away.

I try to make the rest of the trip as sustainable as possible to compensate for the emissions I am causing by air travel. This means, first of all, I start off the trip zero waste style 😉


If you are planning to take the plane anytime soon (or later), have a look at the Zero Waste Travel Tips I have for you:


the green walnuts - zero waste air travel e-ticket


Electronic tickets.

Most of the airlines offer the option to get your ticket directly sent to your mobile phone. If you choose to travel with such an e-ticket, you don’t need to print it or get the laminated paper from the regular check-in point.

Bonus: you will most likely not lose it – we tend to keep our phones quite close 😉


Travel light.

Hand-luggage only. It shouldn’t be too hard to travel with hand-luggage only if you are only away a few days. It might get a little bit harder if you go on an extended vacation. However, it is really nice to have all your luggage right there with you. No waiting time to collect your bags and no hustle to get around at your destination.

Bonus: no baggage sticker!

Bigger bags and suitcases. Even if you decide to drop-off your luggage, try to fly with as few items as possible. The less weight that is up in the air, the fewer emissions are emitted.


the green walnuts - zero waste air travel hand luggage


Essentials for your cabin bag.

Cosmetics bag. No, I don’t think cosmetics are the most essential, but as a lot of people use liquid cosmetics it is important to plan ahead! The wonderful thing about zero waste alternatives to shower gel and shampoo? Most of them are not liquid and you can just carry them in whichever bag you choose.

A safety razor, on the other hand, is rather difficult to get through security. I never tried it myself, but I heard it is still possible. Anyways, there are a few different ideas to handle the “hairy” situation:

  • remove the blade and store it with other metal items or in between jewellery in your luggage
  • use an old common plastic razor
  • don’t bring a razor – let it grow 😛


Well-being. Instead of accepting the goodie bag that you will most likely get on a long distance flight, bring your own! Prepare a little baggie with thick socks, sleeping mask, toothbrush and toothpaste and you will not miss out on anything 😀 Your own scarf doubles as a little blanket and another jumper as a pillow. This way, you won’t need to rip open the plastic wrap.

Entertainment. If you are lucky, your headphones will also work on the airplane. Unfortunately, sometimes they only work with a certain type of plug-in… A little tip if you happen to travel business class with Lufthansa: every seat has their own headphones, unpackaged. (Just wanted to mention it. Business class is, of course, NOT the more sustainable alternative!)

Food and drinks. Do not forget to bring some snacks! Or even better: bring your whole zero waste to-go kit. You will probably need it for your travels anyways 🙂


the green walnuts - zero waste air travel snack



Water or thermos bottle. Your own water bottle will save you from these obnoxious plastic cups. Coffee or tea is easily filled in your thermos bottle! After you pass security, look for water refill stations to have always something to drink with you.

Cutlery, cloth napkin and cloth tissue. Napkin, spoon or fork will usually come in a plastic wrapping. Just bring your own and refuse the one on the plane.

Snacks. Zero waste snacks are never a bad idea. You avoid sudden hunger attacks and are prepared to refuse the little snacks on the plane. Bring more bags and container than you think you will need and refill them whenever you find something delicious to eat. Be careful with fruit and vegetables: some countries do not allow the import of foreign fruit and you have to pay a high penalty if you “illegally” smuggle them to the country. In New Zealand, they will go through all your luggage to look for biohazards.

Meals. If you know you will want to eat an actual meal at some point, pack enough food and try to cancel your board menu.

Another info for the business class: you will get real cutlery, real napkins and snacks in actual bowls. That does not mean it came on board unpackaged, though…


the green walnuts - zero waste air travel meal


Suggestions to reduce emissions.  

I know, I know, air travel is just not sustainable (yet). It is not in any way eco-friendly, but people will not stop taking planes just because it would be great for our planet.

That’s why I suggest a few ways to reduce emissions when you go somewhere by plane:

  • go on fewer flights (duh…)
  • choose more sustainable options instead of short-haul flights (e.g. train, bus)
  • opt for direct flights and avoid layovers
  • make the most of long-distance flights and stay at your destination for longer
  • book economy and not business class (2 seats in business class cause the same emissions as 9 seats in economy class)
  • pick the smaller sized luggage
  • off-set your emissions: carbon offset (I am not a big fan as I think it has the greenwashing aftertaste), make sustainable choices every day, plant trees 🙂


How are you trying to reduce trash when you are on a plane?


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