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.