, Newburyport, MA

March 24, 2010

Going Green: Recycling is possible at any altitude

Going Green

Green America ( is a national nonprofit organization that prides itself on "empowering individuals to make purchasing and investing choices that promote social justice and environmental sustainability, demanding an end to corporate irresponsibility through collective economic action, promoting green and fair trade business principles while building the market for businesses adhering to these principles and building sustainable communities in the U.S. and abroad."

Last month, the organization released a report on recycling in the airline industry: "What Goes Up Must Come Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry." At a time when recycling is commonplace to all consumers, the results are disappointing and saddening.

Here are some of the findings:

The average airline passenger generates 1.3 pounds of waste per flight, resulting in 881 million pounds of waste per year in 2008. Nearly 75 percent of this waste is recyclable, but only about 20 percent is actually recycled.

Of the 11 major airlines researched, none recycle all of the major recyclables: aluminum cans, paper, plastic and glass.

None of the airlines have a comprehensive program for minimizing or composting food waste.

None of the airlines provide information about their recycling programs detailing the waste they generate and how they are addressing it.

None of the airlines provide measurable information about their progression, or lack of progression, toward recycling goals.

Green America did find some bright spots:

American Airlines' flight attendants took it upon themselves to create what their employer lacked in an aluminum can recycling program that benefits charity.

Although their in-flight recycling is limited, Southwest Airlines has an on-ground recycling program that includes batteries, electronics and used oil.

Virgin America has eliminated in-flight magazines, which is a step up from recycling since reducing waste in the first place is better than recycling.

Delta recycles aluminum cans, plastic bottles, plastic trays, cups, magazines and newspapers on flights landing at many major airports.

As consumers, we have a voice in making airlines realize they need to change. Some suggestions from Green America's report are:

Let airlines know that environmental responsibility is a factor in choosing an airline. When you call to plan a trip, ask what recycling programs are in place and encourage airlines to create programs if none exist or expand existing ones.

Ask flight attendants which items are recycled because they will truly know. If the airline doesn't recycle or has limited recycling, tell the flight attendant you would like to see more recycling and follow up with a letter to the airline.

If the airline does not recycle, take all your recyclable items from the flight with you when leaving the plane and recycle them in the airport. Then contact the airline to let them know that you would like to see them recycle.

The airlines should be held accountable for their environmental impact, but they are not going to change without pressure from their customers, which can have the biggest impact on their bottom line. Consumer pressure works because without consumers, there is no business.

The airlines that were evaluated for Green America's report (from best recycling programs to worst) are: Delta Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, JetBlue, American Airlines, British Airways, Air Tran, United Airlines and US Airways.

To read the full report, go to


Bill Goss is the owner of Quality Systems Consulting Group in Amesbury. His Web site is If you have any questions regarding Going Green, send them to and he will answer them in upcoming columns.