Planes and Plastics – AD#3

I know that I might not be posting thoughts everyday but I really am still consciously trying to be aware of the social and environmental affects of the things I do in my everyday life. This leads me to some internal conflicts and to an almost obsessive dislike for single use plastics (which are EVERYWHERE).

You can click here to read part one and here to read part two of my ‘awareness diary’.

Recently, we spent about two weeks or so ‘stuck’ in London while we sorted out some bits of bureaucracy. From there we flew back to Lisbon, on to Barcelona for a few days, back to Lisbon again and we have a few more short flights in the next few days before we get on a much longer one to Vietnam. So my thoughts have been divided between the environmental cost of air travel and also some of the little differences that I noticed between Lisbon and London.

Before we get to those flights though, the small issue of unnecessary bits of paper…

I don’t need a receipt!

In London, when I top up my Oyster card at a tube station, the machine does not issue me a receipt by default, but gives me an option to print if I need one, I have never used this option. The same thing applies in Barcelona, I buy a ticket and I get a ticket, if I want a receipt I have to specifically request it. Back in Lisbon on the other hand when I top up a travel card at a train station, it automatically prints me not one but two receipts, one is a card payment receipt and I am actually not sure what the other one is because I have never even looked at it. What I have looked at is the overflowing bin and floor covered in these discarded bits of paper next to every single ticket purchase machine.

The same thing applies if I do something simple like buy a coffee or a beer and paying by card. In London I am asked if I want a receipt, in Portugal I just get handed two of them.  

Why is this even a thing? We live in an age of online banking, we can check every transaction we make online the second we have made it. Maybe a few decades ago people needed receipts to balance their cheque books or some other such antiquated banking methods, but today, surely not?

I do need a coffee (cup)

While travelling we drink a lot of coffee. Actually, we also drink a lot of coffee when we are not travelling but the vessel that contains it is different.

Yes, yet again I’m off on a little rant about single use plastics. This time, the things that bother me most are single use takeaway coffee cups (or at least the lids), which I think I also complained about in my last article, and meals on planes. 

Let’s start out with the coffee cups because they are easier. Finding decent takeaway coffee in Lisbon is not so easy, but in London these days it’s impossible to walk more than a couple of hundred metres without finding either a chain like Pret or Nero, an independent coffee place, or a barista making coffee from the back of a mobile coffee bar.  What you will also find is that most of the big coffee chain places, some of the cooler independent places and gift shops and other random retailers on every single street are selling reusable cups. Your choices are virtually unlimited, ceramic, aluminium, plastic (multi-use is still better than single use) or bamboo fibre, in any colour and design that you might wish for. You will also get a discount for using them in almost every coffee place that we visited in London, maybe that isn’t the case everywhere, but take a cup with you and ask and you might be pleasantly surprised.  

As an aside, we passed by Mercato Metropolitano while we were in London, because it is always a great place to find something interesting to eat, and all of the stalls there are now using compostable cups, plates and cutlery, which is fantastic.

So, back to those flights…

Planes and plastics, freedom and fossil fuels

I don’t know all of the figures about the amount of carbon emissions I am responsible for every time I take a seat on a plane to travel anywhere, probably I should know them, but I don’t, I do however know they are not good. 

I do know that flying is a fossil fuel based industry, I also know that a single long distance flight probably doubles my carbon footprint for an entire year. I do have some level of awareness, but I don’t have any real solution. 

I fly because other forms of public transport are slower, less reliable and far more expensive, both on a national and international level. I would love to take trains across Europe, but I don’t have days at a time to spare and to be honest I really can’t afford it. 

The only real solution to this is to either find alternatives to flying or a huge change in the aviation industry to make planes that are not reliant on burning massive amounts of petrochemicals and throw vast amounts of carbon dioxide out into the atmosphere. I’m not an aviation engineer but I’m not sure this is a small, simple or quick task. 

In the meantime I will try to pick the flights that have the little eco signs next to them on the flight comparison websites, implying that they are the most ecologically friendly option for my chosen route (it also normally means that they are the newest and therefore most comfortable planes), and I will pay the few extra euro each time that the airlines tell me will go to projects designed to offset my carbon output. 

In addition to, and maybe paling in comparison to, the CO2 impact of flying, it also brings it’s very own issues regarding single use plastics and other similar waste. The way that the ‘meals’ are packaged on flights means that each person receives an identical little box including seasoning and sugar and plastic cutlery with each item individually plastic packaged inside the box. Whatever you use or don’t use, the whole lot is gathered up at the end and thrown together into the trash together with the single use plastic cups that the wine or whatever else you just drank was served in.

For now, I will worry mostly about my carbon footprint because I’m really not sure I have any way to immediately make my in-flight meal footprint any better, but maybe the airlines could come up with something?

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