Airplanes are notorious gas guzzlers, so it's no surprise the industry has been slow to adopt green practices in flight.
"Environmental sustainability? I don't think that's even on their list," says Ellen Simonetti, a former Delta flight attendant and blogger who wrote the 2006 tell-all book "Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant: The Queen of Sky Blog".
According to Simonetti, who was fired in 2004 after her supervisors read her blog, wasting plastic cups is the tip of the iceberg. "I felt really bad wasting all that stuff," she says. "We did stack the plastic cups, but only to make space in the trash — not to recycle." In fact, the only items Simonetti says flight crews recycled were aluminum cans. "And that was only on domestic flights and even then, only certain domestic stations recycled. Others would just trash them."
Here, Simonetti talks to Mother Nature Network about the airline industry's most wasteful practices.
I can tell you that during the beverage service, it was kind of ridiculous. We'd come around three or four times, and each time people would get fresh plastic cups. We would just go through stacks and stacks of plastic cups. At the end of an international flight, all of our trash bins would be completely full and sometimes overflowing. We'd have to go through the cabin to pick up excess trash, and then stick it in the lavatory for landing.
After 9/11, they changed from regular silverware to plastic. Some of it was recyclable, but on domestic flights it was just throwaway stuff. Basically, everything that's used in the food service gets thrown away except for the meal trays. A sandwich, or a toss-out breakfast, will be in a flimsy basket that would get thrown away.
They wrap the rolls on each tray in plastic, and sometimes there's a little piece of cheese wrapped in plastic. There were a few stations, like Paris, where [the catering company] just gives you a regular breadbasket and a bag of rolls and you'd hand them out with tongs. There were certain things they'd wrap excessively. When we'd get ice cream on board, it might have been wrapped in a ridiculous amount of plastic wrap.
In business class, they'd constantly come through with small bottles of water. They'd have one on your seat in the beginning and more to pass out during the flight. In coach, there was a large bottle to pour from. We didn't recycle those.
They used to make us pass out menus in the whole coach cabin. It was just one card, but no one read it anyway. You'd get to their seat and they'd be like, "What's for dinner?" Those just contribute to the trash you have leftover at the end of the flight.
Those were pretty wasteful. The amenity kits in business class during an international flight had an eye mask, lip balm, toothbrush, socks and lotion. I mean, people might have used one or two things, and they left everything else.
In first class, those were made out of cloth; however, they did not reuse them. In coach, they were cheap hot towels, like heavyweight paper towels, and you'd pour hot water over them. The ones in business class you could wash. But we'd just go through [the cabin] and pick them up and dump them in the trash.
On international flights, anything that comes into the country, U.S. Customs requires that they incinerate all trash. Even if we had a half-full bottle of wine, we had to throw it away. There were certain things that would be wrapped on your tray, some things that could have been reused.
On international flights, they give you these headsets that you can keep, and if you purchase one on a domestic flight, you keep it. But if you leave it, they throw it away.
Three-ounce rule for liquids
After the last security thing, with no liquids, have you seen the piles of trash when you go through security these days? That's ridiculous.