Sorry for a catchy title. I am basically interested in some way of comparing the (non-CO2) pollution from plastics and other toxic materials that are being thrown on a landfill to that of air travel.

This was inspired by an argument with a roommate, according to whom recycling is pointless, for one trip on an airplane offsets two years' effort of diligent recycling.

I find it rather hard to compare the non-CO2 footprint of an extra airplane vs that of the average plastic and appliances being thrown out by humans. One would have to make many estimations and assumptions.

Suppose we do not count the pollution that is being used by the airport and on-the-ground airport vehicles, although the servicing of an airplane (and the chemicals involved that leak) is fair game.

Suppose the typical non-recycling person lives in the United States, follows proper procedures when it comes to discarding hazardous material such as paint, but throws out paper, plastic, glass, metal, as well as small electronic appliances.

Let's also suppose that this person's flight pattern is as follows:

  • 1 round-trip from NYC to San Diego per year +
  • 1 round-trip from NYC to Beijing per year.

Is this question too vague? If so, please let me know what other assumptions I have missed.

  • 2
    Yes on the vague part.
    – Rusty
    May 9, 2011 at 16:41
  • 1
    Even if true your roommate’s argument is stupid – unless he actually cancels a flight in response. Note that it’s not enough not to fly. He somehow has to offset his waste by flying less than he would otherwise do. May 10, 2011 at 12:17
  • Both are pretty much negligible, especially if we are talking about one person's impact.
    – Muhd
    Nov 19, 2012 at 5:06

1 Answer 1


You could use one of the online Carbon-Footprint calculators to work this out - just try clicking on flight, or on recycling products and check the differences.

Of course then you have to trust the calculator to have the correct figures, but most of them do state their assumptions.

  • 1
    He explicitly said he wants to know about non-CO2 pollution. Jan 15, 2012 at 17:19

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