Environmental Protection

Delta, Virgin, and Southwest Get Best Recycling Ranking

Delta, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, and Southwest are doing the best job of reducing waste, according to the new 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.

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 each year (including 250 million tons of in-flight waste). While airlines acknowledge the importance of recycling waste, no airline recycles all the major recyclables: aluminum cans, glass, plastic, and paper. No airline has a comprehensive program for minimizing or composting food waste or waste from snack packages, provides good public information about their recycling program, or reports out on progress in relation to any stated goals. In addition, all airlines provide over-packaged snacks and meals and none of the airlines are working with manufacturers to reduce this waste.

The Green America 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.

Green America Responsible Shopper Lead Researcher Victoria Kreha said: "The good news is that airlines are starting to pay attention to recycling; the bad news is that 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.”

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 onboard recycling programs,
  • other in-flight sustainability initiatives.

Nearly 75 percent of in-flight generated waste is recyclable; however only about 20 percent actually is recycled. According to research published 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 represent a contribution by the airlines to reducing their environmental impact in the face of the considerable climate impact of jet fuel, including 600 million tons of carbon dioxide per year pumped into the atmosphere by commercial jets alone.

The full Airline recycling report is available at Contact information for all of the airlines is available in the report for passengers wishing to contact airlines to request that they improve their recycling practices.

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