The most sustainable airline is the one that uses the least non-renewable fuel. That's why the airline industry is focusing so heavily on developing greener jet fuel as fast as possible. But there's another important part of airline sustainability that is often overlooked: recycling initiatives. Think about how much trash is generated every day by the millions of people flying from place to place. Where does it all go?
According to a report (PDF) from Green America, most of the 881 million pounds of waste generated each year by airline passengers isn't being recycled. Green America explains:
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.
Some airlines have progressed further on the issue than others. British Airlines, for example, has set a goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the end of 2010. But American Airlines has decided that it isn't practical to recycle plastic and newspaper even though several other airlines do so.
Recycling isn't the sexiest of sustainability issues, but airlines won't take action without consumer pressure. One easy way to make a difference: fill out Green America's survey of airline recycling experiences.