Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trash in the Air

Mom was reading me an article this morning she found in the New York Times about the airline industry and recycling. I've never been in an airplane but I assumed that the airlines were like every other industry and that they recycled. Oh boy was I wrong.

Did you know that 75% of daily trash is recyclable yet only 20% makes its way to a recycling center? 20%? What's wrong with people? This low figure embarasses Mom and makes her wonder why in the year 2010 people still don't recycle.

Since I don't fly, I don't know what goes on in airports. Mom and Dad tell me about their trips but they usually leave out the airport antics unless something really cool happens. One such happening occured a couple years ago while Mom was passing through Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. She was sitting at the gate when she saw a man and a woman sneak into the family restroom. I never heard what happened next because as soon as she started the story I put my paws over my ears. That was not the type of cool airport thing I wanted to hear about. I want to hear about the restaurants, the people, and the recycling efforts. Especially the recycling efforts.

Mom tells me there are recycling containers throughout all airport terminals. Some containers are single stream and others are multi stream. There's really no excuse not to recycle at the airport as opposed to other public places where recycling containers don't exist, yet some people still throw empty plastic bottles in the regular garbage. So if recycling containers exist in airports, surely there are recycling containers on the airplanes themselves, right?

I couldn't believe it when Mom told me that most airlines don't recycle. Say what? No recycling all those soda cans and little whiskey bottles? No recycling all the newspapers and magazines people leave in the seat pockets? What a disgrace? Mom has been known to stuff her carry-on bags full of used trash just so she can recycle it at her destination but most people just leave in on the airplane for the cleaning crew to throw away. Shame on them!

So why don't the airlines recycle? Mom tells me it's because of money. The airlines have faced serious financial issues since 9/11 and some have yet to recover. Bankruptcies and reorganizations have no doubt pushed any thought about recycling programs to the bottom of many to-do lists. But clearly there is a cost savings to the airlines to recycle, isn't there? And in this crazy economic climate where every passenger is courted to fly this airline and not that, wouldn't it seem like recycling programs could affect a passengers decision about which airline they fly? As usual, I have more questions than answers.

Apparently each airport has its own way of handling garbage. There are so many, how can I say it, hands in the proverbial pot when it comes to airline operations. There are the airlines themselves, the airports, port authorities, waste companies, security agencies, etc., each with their own agenda. Getting buy in from all to create a recycling program seems like a task too monumental to undertake. Until recently.

Some airlines, like Continental Airlines, have been recycling for a few years. Items like oil, antifreeze, and maintenance products are among the things that are being recycled. This is great news but it begs the question what did the airlines do with these items prior to the recycling program? I know there are laws in place for disposing of such hazardous materials like antifreeze but who knew it could be recycled? They also recently started collecting cans, bottles, and boxes from passengers on board to recycle. Finally! I'm so glad to hear that the next time Mom flys Continental she won't lug all her trash off the airplane herself.

But what prompted Continental to start a recycling program?
It was their customers and employees that spoke up and thankfully Continental listened. You know you have a voice and you know you can use it to speak up, get your thoughts heard, and sometimes, yes sometimes, people actually listen and take action. Imagine that!

Since initiating a recycling program in 2003 and then stepping it up again in 2004 by adding food scraps to the program, Oakland International Airport (CA) has diverted 37% of its waste from landfills. That's incredible! Imagine if every major US airport had a similar program in place.

One really sore spot for recycling in airports is at security checkpoints. Passengers still try to go through security with liquids in their luggage despite the posted signs that practically hit you in the face. All those liquids, typically in bottles, are thrown in the garbage unnecessarily and end up in landfills. Mom cannot even look at the security garbage cans because she just cringes and shakes her head. She's oftened wondered why there aren't sinks available to empty the liquids out of the containers and then a recycling can in which to put the empty containers. Well, it looks like the powers that be at the Portland International Airport (OR) wondered the same thing too and installed liquid dumping stations at security checkpoints. Duh! Hopefully more airports will follow Portland's lead soon.

So what can you do to help the recycling efforts of airlines beside recycle your own trash? Green America just started a campaign to get airline passengers to pay attention to how trash is handled on flights. According to Green America, some airlines claim they have recycling programs but that employees don't always recycle. In an effort to hold airlines accountable to their recycling policies, they are asking passengers to ask flight attendants about what will be recycled from the flight. Passengers can then complete this form which will then be used to publish a report to the airline industry.

I doubt I'll ever fly on an airplane because I'm old and the pressure would hurt my ears, but I know a lot of you fly. By participating in Green America's campaign you can change the way the airline industry does business. You can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful airline recycling programs but only if you participate. Use your voice, take charge, and make a difference.



Very interesting. We had no idea! Thanks Stubby for letting us know. You're a good pup!

Riley and Star.

THE PUGLET said...

Hey Stubbs!

I've never been on a plane either, but my human is glad her flier mile thingys are for Continental.

She isn't good at learning or remembering new things, so this coincidence makes it easier for her to fly with a greener conscience.

Anonymous said...

Huh I did not know that. I haven't been in an airplane in about 5 years now. But i will make sure when I go east this fall, to make sure i recycle and ask about it.

Stella, Gunther and Betty said...

Hey Stubby,

WOW! I was worried for a sec I was gonna see... you know.

Last time mom was on a plane was to take El Guapo to Hawaii and then to pick up Ms. Betty in Ohio and bring her back here. She brought her own munchies to save not only money but because she knows so much of that stuff is wasted.


PugMoon - with, Bandit, Paisley, & Smokey pugs and their Mom Paula - PAPugMom said...

Very good words to wisen poeple up. You always make us think. Haven't been on a airplace since 1987. But if the need arises in the future, I will know what to watch out for.

_tony_g said...

Stubby--When I saw your headline "Trash in the Air" I thought my neighbors had taken a trip!

Apollo said...

Thanks for the information! I'm going to pass it on to my parents, since they're the ones who fly. Mommy refuses to put me in cargo and I weigh too much to carry-on (my vet even said I'm not overweight, just big boned - so the airline is discriminating against us big boned Pugs!).

Melissa and Emmitt said...

hi stubby!
i think the airlines should get 10 cents a can refund and then i bet they would not be in debt.

i think big businesses are going to need to make some creative changes to their way of interacting with the world if they are going to be successful and responsible.

m & e

Stubby said...

Hi Riley & Star! This is interesting info, isn't it? It's amazing that the airlines are just starting to recycle. Thinking about all the recyclables they have sent to landfills over the years makes my head spin!

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Puglet! That's awesome that your human's mile thingys are for Continental. Please remind her to ask the recycling question and to fill out the form the next time she flies.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Lex! Thanks for taking interest in this program. It will be interesting to hear what the airline tells you when you fly east this fall. Please remember to fill out the form when you fly.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Gunther! You crack me up! I never thought the post title would exlicit so many jokes.

Kudos to your mom for bringing her own snacks on the planes. My mom does the same thing and even brings her own water. I think if everyone just paid a little more attention to their actions the world would be a better place.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Paula & gang! It's important to get the message out about these programs because most people don't know about them. Please spread the word to friends that fly.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Tony G! You are really something else! I sure hope you fill out the form the next time you fly (whenever that is) or Mom will yell at you.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Apollo! My mom refuses to put me in cargo too! She told me she saw dogs by the luggage carousel that had been in cargo and they were totally unattended. She said anyone could have taken them and that there was no way she would put me through that.

I'm too big to fly in the cabin like all those little dogs. I agree it's total discrimination and that we should start a movement. Just because we're big boned doesn't mean we don't want to fly!

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Melissa & Emmitt! Such great comments on this subject! I agree that the airlines should get refunds on the cans but who would subsidize this expense? The government or maybe the can manufacturers themselves.

There is no doubt that businesses have to get creative in order to be socially responsible. I think things are in place but that attitudes are one step behind. Hopefully with campaigns like this, things will start to change.

Stubby xoxo