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February 24, 2010 > New Airline recycling rankings

New Airline recycling rankings

Submitted By Leslie Anderson

Which airlines are taking steps to reduce the vast amount of waste generated each year by the industry? Delta, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Southwest are doing the best job, according to a new report "What Goes Up Must Come Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry." The report also shows that United and US Airways are doing the worst job when it comes to recycling.

Overall, airlines could recycle nearly 500 million more tons of waste annually (including 250 million tons of in-flight waste). While airlines acknowledge the importance of recycling waste, none recycles all the major recyclables: aluminum cans, glass, plastic, and paper. None has a comprehensive program for minimizing or composting food waste, provide good public information about their recycling program or progress reports in relation to any stated goals. Additionally, all airlines provide over-packaged snacks and meals and none work with manufacturers to reduce this waste.

Green America's airline recycling rankings are (from best to worst): Delta Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, Jet Blue, American Airlines, British Airways, Air Tran, United Airlines and US Airways.

"For concerned consumers looking to spend their travel dollars wisely, airline waste may be the ultimate example of 'what goes up must come down.' The good news is airlines are starting to pay attention to recycling; the bad news is they have a long way to go to improve the situation. Fortunately, airlines can overcome any of the challenges to creating in-flight recycling programs, including employee education and involvement, knowledge of the type of waste produced, and a time-and-space-efficient system," says Green America Responsible Shopper Lead Researcher Victoria Kreha

"While airlines may face some challenges in creating effective recycling programs, evidence shows working systems can be implemented. Our report demonstrates several airlines are significantly ahead of their competitors in taking these steps and it's clear comprehensive recycling programs can be implemented effectively and economically," added Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen.

The report looks at five areas: variety in waste recycled, future in-flight recycling plans, size of in-flight recycling program, education/encouragement of employees in on-board recycling programs, other in-flight sustainability initiatives, and provides overall rankings.

Nearly 75 percent of in-flight generated waste is recyclable; only about 20 percent is actually recycled. According to research by the Natural Resource Defense Council, annually, airlines throw away 9,000 tons of plastic, enough aluminum cans to build 58 Boeing 747 jets, and enough newspaper and magazines to cover a football field 230 meters deep. The energy savings from recycling this waste would be a contribution by the airlines to reducing their environmental impact. Commercial jets pump 600 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Besides environmental benefits, recycling this waste would create jobs nationwide. According to official sources, recycling creates six times as many jobs as landfill.

In addition to the airlines' poor record of recycling, Green America's on-flight research identified some airlines are not actually implementing their stated policies in the air. Green America is calling on passengers nationwide to respectfully ask flight attendants if materials on their specific flights are being recycled and to report their findings to Green America at

For more information, visit The airline recycling report is available at

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