APRIL 2010

Airlines get ranked for recycling

Delta, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Southwest are doing the best job recycling waste, according to the new report “What Goes Up Must Go Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry” from Green America’s consumer watchdog website ResponsibleShopper.org. The report also shows that United and US Airways are doing the worst job when it comes to recycling.

Overall, airlines could recycle nearly 500 million more tons of waste each year (including 250 million tons of in-flight waste). While airlines acknowledge the importance of recycling waste, no airline recycles all the major recyclables: aluminum cans, glass, plastic, and paper. No airline has a comprehensive program for minimizing or composting food waste or waste from snack packages, provides good public information about their recycling program, or reports out on progress in relation to any stated goals. In addition, all airlines provide over-packaged snacks and meals and none of the airlines are working with manufacturers to reduce this waste.

The Green America airline recycling rankings are (from best to worst): Delta Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, Jet Blue, American Airlines, British Airways, Air Tran, United Airlines, and US Airways.

Green America Responsible Shopper lead researcher Victoria Kreha said, “For concerned consumers looking to spend their travel dollars wisely, airline waste may be the ultimate example of ‘what goes up must come down.’ The good news is that airlines are starting to pay attention to recycling; the bad news is that they have a long way to go to improve the situation.

Fortunately, airlines can overcome any of the challenges to creating in-flight recycling programs, including employee education and involvement, knowledge of the type of waste produced, and a time- and space-efficient system.”

The report looks at five areas: variety in waste recycled, future in-flight recycling plans, size of in-flight recycling program, education/encouragement of employees in onboard recycling programs, other in-flight sustainability initiatives, and provides overall rankings.

Nearly 75 percent of in-flight generated waste is recyclable; however, only about 20 percent actually is recycled. According to research published by the Natural Resource Defense Council, annually, airlines throw away 9,000 tons of plastic, enough aluminum cans to build 58 Boeing 747 jets, and enough newspaper and magazines to cover a football field 230 meters deep.

Beyond the environmental benefits, recycling this waste would create jobs nationwide, since according to Colorado Recycles, recycling creates six times as many jobs as landfilling.