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November 2006

Portland International Airport recycles

Portland International Airport – Oregon’s largest non-industrial generator of waste – puts recycling among its top priorities. The airport in recent years has launched one recycling program after another, motivated to reduce its environmental impact and meet citywide recycling targets.

Generating roughly six tons of trash daily, PDX is striving to meet city targets that call for most commercial entities to divert 50 percent of their waste.

PDX recycles about 25 percent of its garbage and is looking to better that rate by partnering with its tenants and airlines.

Not a simple task for an organization with sprawling property, more than 10,000 employees and a thoroughfare for more than a million travelers each month.

In recent years, however, the airport has added food composting and cooking oil recycling programs to its longtime practice of recycling bottles, cans and paper.

The latest initiative – an expansion of its food scrap diversion program – will be rolled out this fall. Kitchen scraps from the companies that prepare in-flight meals, as well as plate scrapings from airline employee dining rooms, will provide an incremental boost to the more than 150 tons of food waste annually diverted from Dumpsters at PDX.

Airport officials hope to complete soon another initiative with the airlines – a set of standards for recycling trash unloaded from aircraft.

The effort has been in the works for more than a year and holds significant potential. Deplaned waste, as it is known in the industry, accounts for about half of the six tons of garbage generated each day at PDX.

No global or nationwide standards exist for recycling the piles of cups, soda cans, food wrappers, newspapers and other in-flight castoffs by passengers.

Without common guidelines, few airlines put out the extra effort to recycle.

But that is changing. Airports increasingly are converting from flat fees for garbage to charges based on tonnage; however, PDX always has charged airlines based on tonnage.

In addition, public demand exists for recycling. “Not only can airlines cut costs by recycling but recycling programs are an excellent public relations opportunity for the airlines,” said Sheryl Bunn, a recycling expert PDX hired when she worked with program a consulting division of Portland State University’ Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.

Coupled with crews that want to accommodate passenger requests, onboard recycling would face little resistance, Bunn said.

It also could happen simply, by collecting recyclables in separate bags. Color-coded tags would identify the content of bags, which would then be hauled to receptacles already waiting at the airport.

The effort stalled earlier this year when PDX lost Bunn and the airports recycling manager to private sector jobs. The project awaits new staffers.

Once implemented though, the program is expected to divert daily more than a ton of recyclables from the waste stream. That’s enough to put PDX on target with city rules.

PDX started recycling years ago by capturing the lowest hanging fruit – paper. It tackled one of the more complicated pieces four years ago with a food-composting program. When the airport launched the composting program, it was among the first by U.S. airport.

In 2005, PDX began sending cooking oil collected from restaurant tenants to a local company that refines it into biodiesel and sells it to the airport in the form of fuel for shuttle buses.

Food composting and other programs come with a price tag but lumped together, recycling generates a monthly average of $1,600 in revenue. The income helps erode the airport’s $20,500 monthly garbage bill in the face of increasing passenger traffic and garbage rates.

Mostly though, striving for zero waste aligns with the mission of the airport and its parent agency, Port of Portland.

The strategy simply is “the right thing to do,” said Stan Jones, formerly PDX waste reduction manager. Jones continues to work on a consulting basis for the airport.

A major push behind the recycling strategy is a move by the Port of Portland four years ago to appoint a director of environmental affairs. Back then, the port decided to strive for sustainability – a principal that balances environmental and social considerations with the bottomline.

Environmental Affairs Director Cheryl Koshuta has said recycling, at its most base, is about being “good stewards.”


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