How Green Is Your Airline?

5 years ago

I recently returned from a plane trip and admittedly, I enjoyed the amenities: wrapped headphones, napkins and ice-cold Coke in a can. Once home, however, I found myself going through what I used that day and wondering how much of it would be recycled by the airlines.

Image: √oхέƒx™ via Flickr


I started to hash though the 93,000 commercial planes that take flight daily around the world with all this trash and realized that's too much garbage - 7.5 million pounds to be specific. I started to think about the oil changes, damaged parts and repairs, antifreeze, and routine fluid changes required (not to mention airport trash) and realized that air travel, from start to finish, is a really trash-oriented industry. How much of our garbage is actually recycled by the airports and airlines? I was concerned enough to take on some research and this is what I discovered.

"Recycling procedures vary by airline and airport. Each environmental program involves many entities: airports, municipalities, private waste companies and federal security agencies. As a result, each of the nation’s 552 commercial airports has its own way of handling waste."

--Christine Negroni, writer on aviation and travel

The airline that has really made green strides is Continental Airlines. They heard customers and employees' concern about the airline's impact on the environment, so they made changes. As a result, Continental Airlines has been recycling oil, antifreeze and other aircraft maintenance products for two or three years. Additionally, Continental began collecting bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard boxes which are recycled through their 'kitchen hubs' at airports.

Meanwhile, American Airlines recently upped their greener habits and offer recycling at some hubs. In fact, The Wings Foundation, a fundraising group of AA flight attendants operate a Disaster Relief Fund to help out victims of natural disasters. In 2010, they raised $90,000 by recycling aluminum cans used by airline passengers. That amount of aluminum is equal to what is used to make four 737 aircrafts...! AA is also working to provide each pilot with an iPad in an effort to bring their paper waste down to zero.

There are several airports in the nation that recycle, most notably, Oakland International Airport, which recycles diverting 37 percent of its waste from landfills and cut in half the number of monthly trash pickups. In 2006, over 76 tons of food waste was diverted from the landfill, up from 51 tons in 2004 when food waste recycling began at OAK.

Furthermore, OAK was one of the first airports in the nation to engage in a pillow recycling program. Traditionally, airline pillows are immediately tossed post-flight, headed straight for the landfill. Instead, this program collects the used pillows for use as insulation or in furniture production.

(GreenBuzz did a post this summer that speaks to these concerns: '7 World's Greenest Airports' Happily, five out of those seven are here in the United States.)

It made me feel better that there are some airports and airlines truly trying to make flying the friendly skies a little greener. But why aren't more airlines trying to follow in Continental's footsteps? And how to get more airports on board with the program? I'm hoping more airports and airlines will become more serious about their efforts to recycle waste.

Would you be more inclined to fly with an airline that recycled? How important is it to you that companies and industries think about greener options?


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