You’re jammed into your coach seat, struggling to open the over-wrapped “treats” and balancing your beverage without spilling stuff on your newspaper. The flight attendants come down the aisles, collecting magazines, soda cans, plastic cups, food wrappings, and…toss it all into one trash bag, never to be sorted or recycled. This is the scenario for some, but not all, U.S. airlines, according to a recent study by Green America’s ResponsibleShopper.org watchdog website.
The report, “What Goes Up Must Come Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry” gave top ratings for in-flight recycling efforts to Delta and Virgin America, though the top “grade” was a B-. United and US Airways shared the bottom spot, each earning an F. The report ranks the diversity and amount of in-flight waste recycled, along with future in-flight recycling plans, education of employees on recycling programs and “other” inflight sustainability initiatives.
In 2006, the NRDC estimated that airlines were discarding enough aluminum cans each year to build 58 Boeing 747 jets. It sounds as if some airlines have got the message and others have not. But action does not need to come from a top-down mandate: while American Airlines has only a limited in-flight recycling initiative, the AA flight attendants created an aluminum can recycling program that supports charitable donations. The program is administered by the non-profit Wings Foundation; their website states that the onboard recycling program was started by one flight attendant in 1989, and last year raised $50,000 for charity.
The Green America report calls for broader industry support for recycling and asks airlines to reduce over-packaging and general waste and to set goals and measure their progress on the issue. One interim step is for airlines to let passengers know that their on-board waste will not be recycled, and encourage people to disembark with their waste and recycle it elsewhere. It might help if we think of an airplane like going on a camping trip…if you pack it in, you have to pack it out.
Each member of the traveling public can help to make sure that those airlines who have recycling regulations observe them, and let airlines know that their environmental policies and practices are important in our buying decisions. Green America is urging the flying public to ask their flight attendant what will actually get recycled on each flight and report it using the form here…Green America plans a follow-up report.
Photo © Jonathan Nightingale via iStockphoto