Between the long security lines (wherein you must juggle shoe removal with the loading of your luggage properly onto a conveyor belt, all while keeping track of your  oh-so-important ticket) and the delayed departure times, air travel can be a nuisance before you even step foot on an airplane.  One of the few pleasant consistencies of a process that is decidedly inconsistent, is the complimentary drink and snack service offered on most domestic flights. Once that snack cart starts rolling triumphantly down the aisle, even if it nips my elbow on its blessed journey to quench passenger’s thirst and assuage pangs of mid-flight hunger, I can not help but to perk up a little. “A cola? For me? No charge?” I seem to suffer a mild case of amnesia and do not recall the hundreds of dollars I have likely spent on this flight and how that could easily cover the cost of  Mountain Dew or two.

This service is typically followed by your friendly flight attendant strolling up the aisle with a small plastic bag seeking the debris from you in-flight nosh.  What happens to that debris is the topic of a report conducted by the nonprofit  environmental group, Green America. The report’s title, “The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry,” reads like a huge spoiler for the content that follows. Hint, hint…things are not looking too green up in the skies of blue. The report asserts that airlines in the United States of America alone generate over 880 million pounds of waste per year, of which 75 percent is said to be recyclable. Only 20 percent of that is actually recycled!

In addition to all these fun percentages, the report also contains rankings of the major airlines in the United States based on five areas of assessment: the variety in waste recycled,  any future in-flight recycling plans, the size of in-flight recycling program, the education/encouragement of employees in onboard recycling programs and other in-flight sustainability initiatives. The airlines were ranked as follows, from best to worst: Delta Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, Jet Blue, American Airlines, British Airways, Air Tran, United Airlines, and US Airways.  Despite of the rank received, no airlines currently recycle all of the main types of recyclables: aluminum cans, glass, plastic and paper.

While this report may sound all doom and gloom, there is  hope for the airline industry and its apparent aversion to recycling.  The most important variable in implementing these changes  is you, the passenger. Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen explains,  “A lot of companies will do something that’s green if they feel there’s public support for doing it.” Green America further suggests that people become proactive passengers by  doing things, such as: questioning your flight attendant about a particular airlines recycling policy, removing your debris  yourself whenever possible to recycle at home, and  by writing to airlines in order  to voice your support of such programs.  They have also provided a  form  on their website where you are encouraged to share your airline recycling experiences, both positive and negative.

It may be easy to just accept your Mountain Dew and surrender your can at the end of the flight to the trash bag in your flight attendant’s well-manicured hands, but being a decent citizen of planet Earth, you know that doing the easy thing is not always the same as doing the right thing. Encourage airlines to bone up on recycling 101 by writing to the companies and support airlines that do implement in-flight recycling programs. Every time that bag comes around ask your flight attendant “Is there a place to recycle this?” The more they hear requests like these, the more likely they will change the policy. When in-flight recycling is not available, shove that empty can and newspaper into your carry on bag to recycle at home.

And while you are at it-making these hard decisions and doing the right thing- you could do the environment a huge solid and simply fly less. In-flight recycling is much easier to implement when the snack cart is your kitchen cabinets.

-Meghan Hurley

“I’ll be home for Christmas…if I only in my dreams,” croons Bing Crosby on this classic holiday song staple.For many of us getting home for the holidays may be more of nightmare than a dream,  often times including headache-inducing travel.  Whether you take to the sky, the rails or the highway to get to your loved ones, there is no denying that the holiday season can send the ‘ol carbon footprint soaring higher than Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.

While one could make the environmentally friendly choice of forgoing the trip home altogether, that would likely result in enduring an avalanche of guilt brought on by e-mails and phone calls from a disappointed mom for weeks and months to come.  Trust me, “I am worried about my carbon emissions” is not an adequate excuse for skipping out on the holiday festivities unless your Dad happens to be Captain Planet.

So, you suck it up, and travel the hours and miles that it will take to make your family happy, and if you are lucky, you are glad to do so. So what can one do to assuage the gnawing green guilt over the amount of fossil fuels your holiday trek will release into the environment?

One option to easing this guilty conscious is purchasing a Carbon Offset, which is a financial instrument aimed at a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In simpler terms,  you  give money towards projects whose aim is to reduce Green House Emissions. At first glance this practice appears to be the perfect solution to the sometimes unavoidable toll our day-to-day actions, such as that cross-country flight home for the holidays, take on the environment.

Critics and cynics alike, however, are quick to point out the flaws to this seemingly positive system. While regulations for this field do exist, some say they are not strenuous enough, allowing certain greedy individuals the opportunity to scam money off well-meaning environmentally minded individuals. It is also argued that a program that allows people to feel better about their less-than environmentally friendly habits only encourages people to continue to make poor choices.

It seems clear that this industry, like many, is far from perfect.  And although it is not without its faults, one could argue that any money put towards a thoroughly investigated Carbon Offset is money well spent.  As long as you, as with any purchase, know who you are buying from- check credentials and check how funds are allocated towards benefiting the environment. It is also important for people to remember that while it is nearly impossible to keep your carbon footprint at zero, one should try to make as many environmentally responsible choices as you can possibly make.

While a trip home for the holidays may be good for the soul and for a mother’s happiness, it does end up costing a little more than the plane ticket or gas for your car. Try making environmentally responsible choices in your day-to-day life,  choose to travel for only one holiday- spend Thanksgiving locally and Christmas with the folks, or vice versa.

Nothing clears a guilty conscience as much as living well, and if you try your hardest, you can keep both your mother and Mother  Nature happy as clams.

-Meghan Hurley

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