Green America Airline Recycling Survey   Leave a comment

In early 2010, Green America’s Responsible Shopper published a report about recycling in the airline industry. The results were pretty sad. In general the airlines aren’t consistent or comprehensive with their recycling efforts. I can’t say that I am really very surprised. I remember many years ago there was a short period of time during which flight attendants would carry two bags when they collected trash, one for trash, and one for cans/bottles/papers. Then that stopped happening. After that I started keeping any recyclable trash and carrying it into the airport myself to recycle when I got off of the plane since I wasn’t comfortable assuming that the trash was being sorted behind the scenes. Most airports are pretty good about having recycling receptacles in the terminal for passengers, at least. Eventually, I got my steel water bottle and now I bring that (empty) to the airport, fill it from a water fountain after security, and drink from that on the plane. On short trips I decline a drink onboard to reduce the waste of the cup and napkin. For long trips, though, my water bottle is not enough and it is nice to get some ice.

The report is an interesting read, and helped put some context on a few things. I had noticed that on Southwest flights when you ask for water they don’t give you a small bottle, but give you a cup instead. Apparently Southwest switched to canned water because the cans are easiest to recycle. It’s true, from a container material perspective aluminum is at the top of the pile. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to recycle (just melt and go), and can be recycled into another can. Glass next because it is also easy to recycle (grind, melt and go), and can be recycled into another bottle. Glass is heavy, though. Plastic is at the bottom because it is hard to recycle (can’t just melt and go), and can only downcycle. You cannot make another bottle out of the plastic.

Back to Green America’s report. Since they put out the report, they have been doing a survey of the experiences of airline passengers. So last weekend on my flights (well, two of the four) to and from Boston, I asked the flight attendants about whether they would be recycling stuff. When I got home I filled out the web form to submit the answers I got. At the end of the year Green America is going to put out an updated report with the results of the survey.

On my flights the flight attendants said that they do recycle cans, bottles, and paper. Everything except papers went into the plastic trash bags, but since they didn’t serve any bottles or cans (just cups) I guess it was all “trash”. I did notice that they would tuck a newspaper under an arm instead of putting it in the trash bag, so I guess that is evidence that the paper really is recycled. On one of the flights the flight attendant was separating out the cups and stacking them in her hand. I asked if they recycle the cups and she said that they don’t, but she stacks them separately so that they take up less room. That way the flight trash fits into a couple fewer bags, thus reducing the number of bags they go through. I could only wish all flight attendants followed that logic!

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Posted November 4, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, environment, travel

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