Dear Airline companies,
I am back again to my travels after several weeks of recess - well a moment to regroup, think, work, recover and recollect my thoughts on things environmental.
You see l work for an environmental United Nations agency called UN Environment. In some instances you will find us being referred to as UNEP. We bring together governments from around the world to discuss policies that quite frankly affect everyone on this planet. Recently - well in 2017 - the world met in Nairobi and the main theme for that Environment Assembly was: Beat Plastic Pollution.
I am certain that on the planes that navigate the planet, your passengers may have even watched some documentaries on the same flights that show environmental degradation, on how the earth is suffering and getting chocked with the one product that continues to tag along on flights: PLASTIC!!
You see as a world traveler- l don’t even want to do the mathematics or calculations about just how much plastic waste is generated from a single long-haul flight because just the thought of it gives me a massive painful headache.
But then again, let me take you through this situation: I board the plane in Nairobi, night flight. Over 200 people on the plane (name the airline) headed for a city in Europe. As I walk through the aisle l notice all blankets wrapped in plastic bags (perhaps a sign that they have been sanitized. actually you could just wrap them with a ribbon signaling that blanket hasn't been used - now there is an idea). Plane takes off we are midair and the lovely stewards & stewardess come through with their smiles and if you are in economy class start to hand out the headphones (wrapped in small plastic packs). After we are a little settled, the food and drinks segment comes next. They ask each passenger what they would like to drink. Drinks served in plastic cups. Next, a tray of food: the fruit, the jam, the cookies, the bread bun, the milk, and even the actual food - all on plastic.
You know my biggest concern here is the issue of mixed messages particularly for global citizens. Let me take you back to the assembly l spoke about. You see when governments and even some private sector came together - change began to happen. Industry began to listen to calls for change because this plastic scourge is REAL!!! And there was a realization on its unsustainability especially when used for single use purposes.
This one product on the planet that has even found its way to the remotest and deepest (underneath the sea bed) parts of this planet, is unsustainable and problematic.
Birds confuse it for food and feed their young with it; the tasty shrimp or sea fish that you are serving on the flights is likely to have swallowed some form of plastic before it shows up in that small square plastic box or the ceramic plate in business class (Note to passenger: YES that’s true!!). The amazing destinations you are flying your passengers to are chocked with it from mountains, to rivers, to islands, to forests and supposedly serene beaches. It’s messy and it’s just bad!!
As a scientist and African environmentalist in particular working on all things landscapes, l want to say that the world has been busy giving you a telling on the issue of your carbon emissions and yes you have started to do something about it. And so have we as passengers.
Personally, l think that collective thinking with manufacturers, catering companies, crockery companies etc. - conversations and actions need to start. How can you be the change the world needs to see? While as citizens we are getting informed by our governments about single-use plastic bans and here we are on flights with this product staring right back in the face and with us debating what to do.
There is moral obligation here – for mother Earth.
Please remember that by the time the flight lands, there will be so much waste generated that it’s likely to move from the recipient airport to a landfill. Another detrimental cycle - sadly. As an earth citizen l am sure that behind your computers, your complex processes, your desks are regular humans who care deeply about their human well-being and surely understand my concerns (including many millions of people out there)!! How can the confusion be reduced? Can airlines begin to pioneer some changes? What are your accountability policies? Do you need any assistance from us at all?
How do we restore a planet in dire need of our kindness, care and certainly love because this is the ONLY place we call home!!
Ms. Musonda Mumba a concerned earth citizen.