Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day-The impact of travel on the environment

I am not oblivious to the wear and tear that travel has on our planet. In fact it's one of those inner conflicts my conscious faces. The love of travel versus the love of the environment. From the moment you step on the plane and they hand you your disposable head phones, your on the express jet to increasing global warming.

It's not just the fuel that the airplanes use that increases your carbon foot print (a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide- source but the whole flight is designed to be disposable.

A regular Boeing 747 can hold about 416 passengers and about 300 of those are probably economy class. On a 10 hour flight you can conservatively estimate at least 3 beverages per person which adds up to 900 plastic cups on one flight! There is also the disposable packaging from the meal service, you can estimate at least two meals per 300 passengers. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers website, on any given day there are 87,000 flights in the skies in the United States, out of that number 28, 537 are commercial aircraft. So you can only imagine the number of flights world wide, and all the disposable items that go with it.

If your lucky enough to fly business class, long haul or at night, you can expect a nice little overnight bag which contains socks, tooth brush, eye mask and some other cosmetic stuff. Imagine if the bag is opened and used just for the eye mask, and then it's tossed out. On some flights destined for Asia they give you slippers, again they are worn for maybe 10 hours and then thrown out.

The environment damage doesn't stop there, imagine this scenario: After a long flight you finally arrive at your destination, but instead of taking a the hotel shuttle bus or public transportation you decide to take a taxi, because its faster. When you arrive at your hotel you're really thirsty so you open a bottle of water from the mini bar. You take a long hot shower using the hotel soap and shampoo, and leave your towels on the floor. The next day when you leave for sightseeing, the maid changes your sheets and brings you new towels. You leave the air conditioner on all day since its hot outside (and your not paying for the electricity) and grab a few more plastic bottles of water for the road.

Because this is your vacation, you don't want to concern your self with the details of how much plastic waste you produced, or the amount of fresh water and electricity used to wash your sheets and towels daily. But when millions of people go on vacation, it can really start to add up.

So how can you ease the load of your burdensome conscious? Well you can help reduce the amount of waste on the plane by bringing a water bottle (purchased after security of course), and ask the flight attendants to refill your bottle, instead of getting those micro glasses of water every 30 minutes. Also, when they give you disposable head sets, really try to keep them for the next flight, or they just end up in the garbage. If your in Business Class, save the rest of your overnight kit and give it friends or family for the next time they travel (assuming they are stuck in economy)

When you're staying at a hotel, try to re-use your towel a few times and don't get them to change your bed sheets until after you leave (unless you change your sheets daily at that case your problem to much of a clean freak to stay in a hotel anyways). Bring home left over shampoo and conditioner bottles, and recycle the containers after use. As for the bottled water, personally I say don't risk drinking tap water unless you really know it's safe. Just imagine how many trees they would have to chop down if you had a bad case of the runs.

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