Update 2/16/2016: Partly in response to this blog, the manager of environmental sustainability in Air Canada's Environmental Affairs Department wrote to me two days ago to claim that, at 8 of 9 airports in Canada, the company does in fact separate and recycle its onboard waste. The exception is Toronto's Pearson International Airport, which follows rules enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency and set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Preventing the spread of disease is their goal. The manager at Air Canada assures us that the company is trying to agree with the CBSA and the CFIA to expand their recycling, and she asks that we write to the CFIA to express our concerns about a systemic solution to the embarrassing destruction of recyclables. (Further update: Having pondered this awhile, I wrote this postscript.)
Dear World Leaders,
Last week in Paris (mid-December, 2015), leaders from around the world negotiated the first universal agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding catastrophic climate change. Today, I call on you as world leaders too—leaders of a globalizing industry—to let me help you do your part.
Once upon a time, and for a short time, I was in management, where we had the jargon of "the take away." As you know, it's the proposal that one might remember from a presentation or executive summary. I want to suggest that you remember this: airlines must do more to mitigate climate change—and I'll help! I volunteer to take away the recyclables (a sort of double take away) on airplanes on which I travel and actually recycle them, rather than destining them to a future of burial or incineration.
The world is burning up. 2015 will be the hottest year on record, and yet we continue (more literally than with the world) to burn things that contribute to global warming.
The jet fuel we burn while travelling with you has, at present, environmental consequences that are inevitable results of choosing to fly, but there are many that we can avoid. Every day, airlines use cups and cans numbering in the many millions, many of which are incinerated rather than recycled. In Scientific American not long ago, David Farley wrote that “[t]he U.S. airline industry discards enough aluminum cans every year to build nearly 58 Boeing 747s and enough paper to fill a football field–size hole 230 feet deep—that’s 4,250 tons of aluminum and 72,250 tons of paper.”
The Canadian industry is proportionally no better and is in some ways worse, because some major American airlines do recycle some of the stuff on their planes—but Air Canada and WestJet presently do not, at least on my recent flights to and from Toronto. Such enormous waste is unconscionable, and every time I forget my reusable water bottle at home I feel guilty if I need water on board. (I feel guilty about not buying carbon offsets these days too, but that's a slightly different issue.)
Although consumers have little control over jet fuel consumption except their choice not to fly, to fly less, or to fly with less baggage (a lighter load meaning less fuel consumption), we have plenty of choices on the airplane itself. We could boycott in-flight purchases that involve wasted recyclables, but, as we are taught to do when hiking in national parks, we could instead take away our recyclables into the airports, which do have infrastructure for recycling.
Shouldn't your employees be doing that? (And is a plane in the air anything like a national park?) But since they're not, or at least not consistently throughout your business, your customers could do it. Knowing it can start with one, I proposed to volunteer on my December business and pleasure flights to take all recyclables from the airplane to local recycling facilities, but the flight attendants said they had no resources (presumably enough staff and time) to separate the recyclables from garbage and to collect them. This is where we need your help. Flight attendants need their executives and managers to say that they should take time to separate the recyclables. It seems as simple as having one bag for recyclables and one for garbage—many bags of each, of course, and enough people to move them.
The responsibility is not only mine. You as world leaders are in a better position than me to make a systemic improvement, but I'm part of the system. Say the word, and I'll move the recyclables off the plane.
[Unsuccessful attempts were made to reach Klaus Goersch (the Air Canada Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer responsible for efficiency) with this suggestion, prior to my Christmas-related flights in 2015.]
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. "Open Letter to World Leaders at Airlines." Publicly Interested. 16 Dec. 2015. Web. [date of access]
Joel Deshaye is a professor of English literature with an interest in publics, publicity, celebrity, mass media, and popular culture.