How One Fashion PR Girl Travels Waste-Free


Thanks to cheaper airlines, advances in technology and increasing urbanisation, travelling by air is no longer a privilege afforded to a select few. But with the democratisation of air travel comes a greater responsibility to recognise the environmental impact of our flights. It’s something we should at least be conscious of when we book our next holiday or work trip. For Alisha Wheeler, Public Relations and Digital Manager for Maggie Marilyn, flying waste-free was a challenge she was determined to win.

Alisha shares with The Twenties Club how she embarked on her first waste-free flight, the obstacles she encountered, and how you can make your next flight a cleaner one.

As the Public Relations and Digital Manager for one of the fashion industry’s most exciting sustainably-minded brands, Maggie Marilyn, being aware of your carbon footprint is almost part of the job. Have you always been passionate about sustainability or was this a shift that happened while working at Maggie Marilyn?

I have always stood up for what I believe in; from being on the debate team in high school, to dabbling in a law degree before realising that it was possible to combine my passion for change with my desire to work in a creative industry. I remember when the Vogue Italia editorial “Water and Oil” came out after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – it was the first time I saw the power fashion has to use their voice in social commentary. I realised it could stand for something more than just beautiful clothes.

I’ve always been environmentally conscious but my passion for sustainability was really ignited when I started my fashion degree at Istituto Marangoni, the London School of Fashion & Design. Right from the beginning I focused all of my projects around the theme of sustainability; I remember one of our assignments was to produce a magazine from start to finish and all of the articles and shopping pages were focused on sustainable designers while most of my peers were writing about the trends of that season. This passion only grew stronger when I started interning in the fashion industry and was exposed to the full extent of waste produced behind the scenes.

As a plant-based vegan, you are already so committed to living mindfully in terms of your diet and consumption habits, what made you want to extend this awareness to how you travel?

Every time I fly I am so frustrated by the amount of unnecessary single-use plastic. From the airplane blankets wrapped in plastic, to the headphones, to the cutlery, to the cups, to the water bottles, I could seriously go on forever. I had been feeling frustrated for a long time when, serendipitously, I sat next to a couple from Northland on a work flight to NYC at the end of last year who were doing a waste-free flight. I already had my reusable drink bottle and headphones with me but this couple had brought their own blankets, Keep Cups, in-flight food in tupperware, re-usable cutlery – they’d thought of everything! I was so inspired and decided then and there that I would challenge myself to fly waste-free.

Talk us through your waste-free flight “check-list” and any prior research you did about your airline.

I always fly with Air New Zealand and do a lot of travel for Maggie Marilyn so I’ve done my due diligence with the airline and various airports in terms of knowing what’s available and what’s prohibited onboard. The only research I highly recommend doing before you embark on a long-haul flight is to figure out what food options they have at the airport you’re transiting through so you can figure out how much food you will need to bring on your flight and what the waste-free options are in the airport as some are a lot better than others. I learnt this the hard way!

My check list:

  1. First and most importantly, I carbon off-set my flight. A lot of airlines offer this as an option when you book your ticket but if not, there are a lot of great companies that you can purchase carbon credits from.
  2. Reusable water bottle. When I re-fill it during the flight I ask the crew to use the tap as they often reach for those big plastic Evian bottles which basically defeats the purpose.
  3. A Keep Cup for all of the hot and cold drinks the crew offer from the trolley. So instead of them pouring the coffee into one of their Styrofoam cups it goes into my Keep Cup – easy.
  4. Tupperware and cutlery. If you’re flying long-haul, which I usually am, eat a proper meal right before you hop on your flight so that you can pass on the first meal the airline serves, then pack your own meal to have when the crew are serving the final meal before landing. Make sure it’s something that can sit for 10 or so hours! This is easy if it’s breakfast as I’ll pack my own muesli and a container of oat milk to add in.
  5. A blanket or big pashmina. Airplanes can be freezing and for some silly reason the airline blankets are always wrapped in plastic. Bringing your own cosy blanket on a flight feels so much more luxurious anyway.
  6. BYO headphones. Again, this is because the ones provided are wrapped in new plastic each time and most people don’t realise that a lot of airline headphones are single-use, meaning they get thrown away after every flight. So bring your own! As a side note: I highly recommend investing in noise-cancelling headphones; these along with an eye mask are my secret weapon for getting some sleep on a long-haul flight.

What obstacles did you encounter on the flight and in the airport?

I didn’t encounter any obstacles on the flight aside from asking the air hostesses to fill my bottle from the tap as opposed to using the plastic bottles. The biggest challenges came during my layovers. I was taking two long-haul flights back-to-back so I needed to find some food in LAX to fill my Tupperware with to take on my second flight. I thought this would be easy given I was in a western country but I couldn’t have been more wrong! I’m plant-based, and while I know there would have been more options available to me if I could eat meat, I was still really shocked. After trying countless outlets looking for vegan options I resided myself to the fact that my last remaining option was guacamole (I couldn’t even have the corn chips because they were cooked in butter). So I went to order some guacamole and the staff refused to put it directly into my Tupperware due to their food safety regulations – seriously! The guy serving me was really lovely and understood that I was trying to be waste-free, so he compromised and offered to serve it on a smaller cardboard container instead of their typical plastic containers – so that at least I was skipping the plastic and could use the recycling bins in the airport.

What would you do differently on your next flight to avoid those obstacles?

I would research all the different food options in the airport I was transiting through before leaving so that if I thought there was going to be an issue, or even just as a precaution, I would take enough snacks to last me the entire journey. If you’re only taking one flight of course none of this would be an issue and you should find your waste-free flight really easy!

What are three small changes readers can make when they travel to move closer to being “waste-free”? 

Firstly, off-set your flight. It doesn’t cost much and it can make a huge difference! Platforms like MyClimateoffset the emissions in high-quality climate protection projects which reduce the emission of greenhouse gases – directly protecting the climate. Secondly, take your own water bottle and Keep Cup. This is a great first step anyone can make, especially if you aren’t quite ready to take your own food onboard, and you are still saving a huge amount of single-use plastic but more importantly you have the potential to positively influence those sitting around you. And lastly, use your own headphones – it’s a great way to avoid unwrapping that extra bit of plastic and you’ll typically find them more comfortable than those on offer.

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