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Delta, Virgin, Southwest Top Airline Recycling Report Card

Although the U.S. airline industry generates more than 880 million tons of waste annually, only a small percentage is recycled, according to a new report. Delta, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Southwest topped the ranking, while United and US Airways received the worst grades, according to the recycling report card.

The report, “What Goes Up Must Go Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry” from Green America’s consumer watchdog Web site ResponsibleShopper.org, ranks 11 airlines based on their recycling programs in five areas. The report reveals there is room for significant improvement in the industry with nearly 500 million pounds of waste that could be recycled each year, of which 250 million pounds is generated in-flight.

No airline received higher than a B- grade overall.

A key finding shows that nearly 75 percent of in-flight generated waste is recyclable but only 20 percent is recycled.

The ranking evaluates airlines in 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, and other in-flight sustainability initiatives.

Other findings show that no airline recycles all the major recyclables — aluminum cans, glass, plastic, and paper — and none of the airlines are working with manufacturers to reduce packaging in snacks and meals. In addition, no airline has a comprehensive program for minimizing or composting food waste or waste from snack packages, or reports on their progress in their recycling goals.

However, the report finds that a few airlines are making strides in their recycling efforts. As an example, British Airlines has set a goal of sending zero waste to landfills in the UK by 2010. Virgin America has eliminated in-flight magazines to prevent waste, and has an in-flight green team that works to increase sustainability awareness.

Other airlines are also stepping up their efforts. As examples, Delta recycles aluminum cans, plastic bottles, plastic trays, beverage cups, newspapers, and magazines on flights landing at many of the nation’s major airports, and Southwest’s on-ground recycling includes batteries, electronics, and used oil, although its in-flight recycling is limited. Southwest announced a co-mingled recycling program last October.

American Airlines, which got a D grade for recycling, announced last year that it would begin recycling wine corks to prevent them from ending up in landfills.

AirlineRecyclingRanking

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3 thoughts on “Delta, Virgin, Southwest Top Airline Recycling Report Card

  1. That’s too bad that they didn’t research this more thoroughly. If they had, they could have included Horizon Air. Horizon Air initiated their inflight recycling program in the mid-80’s. They currently recycle approximately 69% of all inflight food and beverage wastes on their flights (worthy of an A+ I think). Further research may have also exposed the role of the flight catering kitchens. These contract kitchens (such as SkyChefs and Gate Gourmet) are responsible for waste disposal and recycling for a great majority of aircraft generated food and beverage wastes.

  2. That is interesting information Jackie. I run the recycling program at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. We launched the only on airport Materials Recovery Facility in 1989 but are excluded from these type of stories and reports. It is clear the writers are not looking for succeess stories, they are looking for ways to say nasty things about the airline industry so they sell their advertising by having the general public read their stories. CNN recently ran a story where they suggested the airlines should fake it if they can’t do a good job recycling in reality. The words were that certain airlines “were not even putting on a good show” for the flying public. I am pretty sure no one wants the airlines to fake their efforts for safety sake, even if it is just the recycling program. Also, faking a recycling program and the less effective recycling programs actually ad to the horrible burden our environment is suffering from. In the airline industry there are success stories when it comes to recycling, but the airlines did not set up the infrastrcture to recycle so they are depending on the garbage hauling companies to do it for them. The result is a lot more hauling and you guessed it, a lot more natural resourses being used than necessary. There is a great solution to the recycling issue, and there is a way for the airline industry to recycle all of the marketable material generated in their waste stream. Our program in Fort Lauderdale is one of the ways to do it and we have many other options, but it is hard getting through the red tape or getting the airlines to work with each other. So our work is laid out for us. We are making a difference at Fort Lauderdale and trying to move the concept to other airports. It will be interesting to see if they allow my post to remain or even put it up.

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