“Zero waste” air travel is somewhat of a misguided effort. While we may be able to opt out of wasteful activities like paper boarding passes, in-flight meals, and plastic water cups, flying is actually one of the most environmentally consequential activities we do as individuals. I have to fly semi-frequently for work for instance, and those flights alone result in nearly ~3.27 tons of CO2—accounting for almost 1/4 of my carbon footprint. But that’s only half of the picture—the actual footprint of flying is not well understood, as planes release a host of other outputs that result in additional climactic effects. The real climate impact of flying may be twice as high as the CO2 emissions alone.
But when simply flying less to reduce emissions isn’t an option and life demands travel for work, family, or for whatever reason, there are a few things we can do to minimize our impact and reduce emissions. First: consider flying economy. A study by the WorldBank found that flying first class may have a carbon footprint up to nine times larger than an economy seat because more fuel is required to carry fewer passengers that take up extra space on the plane.
Another step: pack light. Heavier planes consume more fuel, and cargo and baggage constitute large portions of an aircraft’s weight. So pack only the necessities and skip checking a bag when possible. I tried doing the math to verify this, but evidently, if every passenger packed one less pair of shoes (roughly 2 lbs), the aircraft’s fuel savings would be equivalent to removing 10,500 cars from the roads for an entire year. Though it may not be much, packing light and fitting everything into a carry on does have its merits.
A few times out of the year I find myself traveling for work to rural towns on small domestic planes (unfortunately an even worse source of emissions). But over the last several trips I’ve nailed down my packing list to only the necessities in a lightweight duffel bag that fits under plane seats, which is my attempt at “packing one less pair of shoes” in a way.
Here’s my minimal packing list for a 4 to 5-day work trip, including clothes, hygiene products, and a few necessities to curb unnecessary waste:
Toothpaste (bought in bulk)
Jojoba Oil (bought in bulk)
Travel bottles for shampoo + conditioner filled with Plaine Products. I want to go Water Only this year which would cut these and the pomade. I want to simplify my toiletries more because right now it feels like a lot.
Olive oil bar soap (I like this soap maker out of B.C)
Linen carrying sack for the soap
Stasher bag to hold liquids through TSA
3 hemp blend bento bags by Organic Bags Canada
What I wear to the airport
Basic cotton pullover
Button down shirt
I use cloth bento bags to keep clothes, electronics, and utensils organized in my duffel. Then, when I get to wherever I’m staying, I unpack so that I can also use the bentos to carry groceries or dry bulk foods. The stasher bag for toiletries is also handy for food or whatever else might need a “ziplock.”
The single mason jar is a recent, aspirational addition to the list. My Hydro Flask water bottle is too heavy to carry when traveling and not useful enough. I struggled for awhile trying to find a smaller insulated bottle, but I’ll settle on the mason jar for now. With it, I can get drinks but also make overnight oats for times on the road with limited food stops. It’s also good for leftovers or food scraps.
Food-wise, I am definitely “particular” for bringing a jar of oats with me on work trips but truthfully it’s invaluable. Being vegan in rural American towns is not easy, so it’s worth having a reliable option on hand. On that note, I also like to bring my EcoLunchBox 3-tiered tiffin with protein dense meals packed in each container (my travel favourites lately are tofu scramble and a tofu kimchi fried rice). Airport security doesn’t seem to have a problem with my meal prepping.
Near the end of the list is a small assortment of clothes. I work in casual to business casual environments, so I get away with bringing only a single pair of jeans. I wear a basic cotton pullover to the airport, which I can throw on top of a button down for business casual or I can wear it alone. Out of this packing list, there are 10 outfit combinations which is more than enough for a work trip.
I hate fighting for overhead bin storage on planes, so with this packing list I can relax knowing everything I need fits neatly in soft luggage stowed under the seat in front of me and that I’ve taken at least one minuscule step in reducing my emissions associated with flying (though really I plan to cut work travel altogether in the next couple of years). With all of that extra peace of mind, I can focus on the things that are really important—like impressing strangers when I pull out a jar of oats to whip up oatmeal at cruising altitude.