How to Cut Back on Airport Waste

Airports don't recycle much of the waste that passengers produce. Here's how you can cut back.

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Harried travelers have to ditch their bottled beverages to make it through airport security checkpoints to their flights, but unless airports change their practices, those recyclable bottles often go straight to the trash. The New York Times wrote recently about the difficulties airlines face in greening their waste-management practices, which can involve many agencies and are different in every airport. Some have learned to adapt - the Portland International Airport in Oregon, for example, has installed a station for passengers to dump liquids out of bottles so that they can keep and reuse them, with a recycling bin close by.

Of course, it's not just security practices that cause the trash to pile up in airports. With time to kill at gates and during layovers, the airport food court is all but irresistible. Much of the fast food you'll find there is overpackaged to make it portable enough to take on board with you. A few airports, like Oakland International, have cut down on their trash by installing compost bins for food waste, and encouraging restaurant tenants to use compostable food containers. And on the planes themselves, food and plastic waste is abundant, thanks to the millions of cans and plastic cups that most airlines send straight to the trash. Continental is one airline that collects recyclable waste before landing, and recycles it through airport kitchens.

[Anatomy of a Travel Scam.]

Here are a few items you can bring to the airport to cut back on the amount of waste you produce - all of which are convenient for travel:

  1. Reusable water bottle. While liquids cannot be taken past security checkpoints in containers larger than 3 oz, passengers are permitted to take empty containers through. Try a Vapur - a reusable BPA-free 16-oz plastic water bottle that rolls up to a teeny travel size when empty. Bring one, and you'll never have to pay for bottled water at the airport again. 
  2. Reusable utensils. Skip the plastic spoons, forks, and knives when you get a bite to eat at the airport food court. To-Go Ware makes bamboo reusable utensils that are earth-friendly and security checkpoint-friendly as well, and come in a small pouch that's easy to stash in a purse or carry-on.
  3. Reusable bag. You never know when an extra tote bag will come in handy as you travel. Envirosax are good for those "just in case" instances. Rolled up, they're smaller than the size of a cell phone, so you can toss them in your carry-on and forget them.
  4. Snacks from home. You can't buy a sandwich, salad or cookie without at least several layers of wrapping at the airport. Pack your own snacks instead, in small reusable containers that can be used to hold other items on your journey home. You'll save money and avoid the temptation of often-unhealthy airport food. If you don't want to carry a container for food, pack fruit instead.