United, U.S. Airways Earn Fs in Airline Recycling Report Card

United, U.S. Airways Earn Fs in Airline Recycling Report Card

Airplane food -- CC licensed by Flickr user Micah Sittig

Although the U.S. airline industry generates millions of tons of waste each year, the vast majority of it goes without being recycled, a new report found.

That's due in part to the fact that no major airlines in the U.S. airlines recycle all the major recyclables or have programs that minimize food and onboard waste, according to Green America. Over-packaged snacks only exasperate the problem.

"What Goes Up Must Go Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry," from Green America's consumer watchdog arm, ResponsibleShopper.org, ranks the top U.S. airlines on their recycling programs, finding a lot of room for improvement.

While Delta and Virgin America topped the list, each received a score of only B-, followed by Virgin Atlantic and Southwest, which each scored Cs. Continental, JetBlue, American Airlines and British Airways each received Ds. United and US Airways flunked with Fs.

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

The totality of the findings is sobering: More than 881 million tons of waste was generated by airline passenger trips in the U.S. in 2008. Unfortunately, just 20 percent was recycled, although 75 percent was recyclable.

But there are signs that airlines are beginning to recognize the benefits of recycling, such as British Airlines' decision to send zero waste to landfills in the U.K. by 2010. Meanwhile, Southwest's on-ground recycling program covers batteries, electronics and oil, although its in-flight recycling is limited.

CC licensed by Flickr user Micah Sittig.