We became uncomfortable about flying in our personal lives about ten years ago because of the incontrovertible evidence that flying impacts heavily on an individual’s emissions profile. Since then we’ve opted to take public buses around our home country of New Zealand rather than flying (NZ has no proper train system). We have taken international long haul flights in the past (the last time was 2015 for Liam and 2016 for Hannah), but have since done some serious soul-searching about whether we’ll ever do this again.
Since July 2017 we’ve been running a project called The Rubbish Trip. We travel New Zealand full-time giving free talks and presentations about how individuals can reduce household rubbish (we’ve lived without a bin since the beginning of 2015).
On The Rubbish Trip we’re constantly traveling, but we wanted to do this without flying. As of March 2019, we’ve delivered almost 300 presentations in every single region of NZ, without ever setting foot on a plane. Our transportation is a mixture of hitchhiking, public buses, cycling, and walking (although we no longer have a car, in our first year we did have a small one for driving between main centres).
We have not faced challenges with no flying because we embedded this approach into The Rubbish Trip from the outset. Businesses, schools, and communities who would like us to present understand that they need to wait until we are in their town. Businesses with offices across the country space our visits out across several months rather than several days. We feel our no-fly stance may shift culture because we are modelling that it’s possible to run a full-time nationwide speaking tour without flying. On the flipside, we feel that as advocates for personal behaviour change for the environment, people look to us, to a certain degree, for guidance on sustainable living generally. If we were to fly as part of The Rubbish Trip, implicitly we’d be legitimising casual use of air travel when alternatives exist, or perhaps even sending the message that air travel is justified when being used to deliver a sustainability message, when in actual fact we do not believe that it is.
Our approach to advocating waste minimisation has always been to start by walking the talk ourselves and support others to as well. We apply this same approach to climate change mitigation. We wholeheartedly believe that serious environmentally motivated change at an industry and policy level is imperative. However, it’s not mutually exclusive with individual personal behaviour change. In fact, we may never achieve societal-level change if individuals do not start learning and practising new ways of living everyday and showing that low-impact ways of being and doing are possible.
Not flying has shaped The Rubbish Trip in positive ways. Traveling through towns and cities rather than flying over them has allowed us to reach more people (including communities that might not ordinarily have visiting speakers) and learn more about the waste situation in every part of NZ. Not flying (and also going car free) has also saved us a lot of money.
The Rubbish Trip is a nationwide zero waste speaking tour.