The aviation industry is often criticized for contributing to global warming through airplane exhaust. But waste of a different kind also has the potential to create environmental problems.
Even before they board, air travelers throw away trash of all sorts, including paper, plastic and food waste, and airports and airlines recycle only a small portion of it.
An estimated 7.5 million pounds of trash is generated every day. While the Natioal Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, says that 75 percent of that trash is recyclable, it has found that only 20 percent reaches a recycling centre.
“It does not make sense to acquire oil from the Middle East or the slope of Alaska and turn it into a plastic bottle, use it once and throw it away,” says Allen Hershkowitz, a scientist at the council.
Recycling procedures vary by airline and airport. Environmental programs involve many entities: airports, municipalities, private waste companies and federal security agencies. As a result each of the 552 airports in the United States has its own way of handling waste.
“This issue is very local,” said Nancy Young, the transportation association’s vice president of environmental affairs.
Continental Airlines has been recycling oil, antifreeze and other aircraft maintenance products for two or three years. Recently it began onboard collection of bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard boxes. Leah Raney, managing director of global environmental affairs for Continental, said it was recycling these items through kitchens it owns at hub airports.