With a 65 percent improvement in 2010 over the amount of paper, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard recycled in 2009, our goal is to further increase recycling totals by 10 percent in 2011.
Recycling and Waste Management
Co-Mingled Recycling Program
Created to more efficiently minimize waste that would otherwise be disposed of in landfills, our co-mingled recycling program is one of the many pollution prevention initiatives at Southwest Airlines. What makes this program unique among U.S. airlines is that we established a nationwide program with a single contractor to recycle waste collected onboard our entire fleet of aircraft using collection facilities in our Provisioning locations. We also recycle similar materials on the ground at most Southwest Airlines facilities across the nation, wherever programs are available. We have voluntarily implemented this program and go beyond regulatory requirements to make a positive impact on our Planet. Environmental benefits of this program include:
- Reducing waste volume to conserve landfill space
- Minimizing future greenhouse gas emissions through the contribution of recycled materials, which can be used to make new products with a smaller carbon footprint
- Preserving raw materials as well as the energy and water required for processing raw materials
- Purchasing renewable energy-driven equipment such as solar compactors with co-mingled recycling program rebates
- Promoting recycling to our Employees and Customers through education to encourage more recycling not only onboard our aircraft and in the office, but also at home
Motivation for Consolidation
In late 2006 the idea arose to consolidate municipal waste disposal and recycling efforts under a nationwide contractor in order to consolidate contracts and run an efficient program. At that time, individual Southwest Airlines locations managed our recycling efforts, which consisted of recycling cardboard and aluminum at most locations in addition to paper recycling at the Southwest Airlines Headquarters.
In 2007, we formed the Green Team, a group of Employees focused on placing a green filter on business decisions and fostering environmental stewardship. The Green Team formed a subcommittee to encourage recycling efforts and move forward with the idea of a consolidated recycling program. Flight duration and Flight Attendant duties, including promoting Safety as the top priority, limit the time available for sorting recycling on the aircraft. So, we searched for a contractor willing to accept a co-mingled recycling stream from both facilities and aircraft, similar to some municipal recycling programs. After a comprehensive review of potential program partners, we awarded Republic Services, Inc., our recycling contract in August 2008. Once the recycling subcommittee determined the enormous scope of our systemwide, co-mingled recycling program, it recommended that a single Southwest Airlines department take charge of recycling program management. Facilities Maintenance graciously volunteered. Under its leadership and management, with the assistance of Republic Services, our co-mingled recycling program has grown to include our Headquarters campus in Dallas; six Customer Service and Support centers; 22 aircraft Provisioning facilities; and all four Aircraft Maintenance bases in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and Chicago. On Nov. 1, 2009, we reached a significant milestone when we officially launched onboard recycling on our entire fleet of 548 aircraft. Most of our recycling of onboard waste happens at our aircraft Provisioning facilities. When we fly into cities that do not have provisioning facilities, we keep the recycled materials onboard the aircraft, space permitting, until we return to a provisioning location.
A Collective Effort
Cooperation among many of our Stakeholders was vital to establishing our co-mingled recycling program. Republic Services shared its recycling experience to guide us in establishing the essential elements needed to initiate the program. Republic Services also partnered with other materials recycling facilities around the country to serve Southwest Airlines locations outside of Republic Services’ network. The airports we serve also played a role by allowing placement of large collection containers and compactors. Suggestions for improvement from our Employees and Customers also contributed to the program’s success.
Southwest Airlines’ recycling program is the first systemwide onboard, co-mingled recycling program in the nation. Accomplishing a sweeping change of this magnitude requires the commitment of many People. Our Aircraft Provisioning Team and Flight Attendants encountered many challenging collection and storage issues—such as limited space at each airport for recycling equipment and for separate storage of recyclables in the aircraft galleys—but they found solutions to make this program work. Our Crew also finds time to make announcements about recycling collection in their busy schedules of inflight service and safety demonstrations. In true Southwest Airlines SPIRIT, many Flight Attendants are also cleverly creative in delivering the recycling message to our Customers.
Training and Education
Training and education are essential elements of a recycling program. At Southwest Airlines that meant training and encouraging 9,800 Flight Attendants, 800 Provisioning Agents, and 100-plus Cleaning Team members to change the way they perform their daily jobs to include recycling collection. More than 6,000 Headquarters Employees and Employees at 22 provisioning locations participated in recycling training. We continue to educate and encourage our Employees to recycle through Employee publications such as Onboard, our monthly publication for Inflight Services, and our weekly Green Tuesday messages. We also share information on recycling with our Passengers through inflight announcements, a message on our inflight menu, and in Spirit magazine, so they are aware of which items to hand to the Crew to recycle at the end of each flight.
Measuring Our Environmental Impact: Co-Mingled Recycling
We track our co-mingled recycling program’s success using monthly reports compiled by Republic Services. In 2010, we diverted more than 2,500 tons of co-mingled waste material from landfills through recycling. This is a 65 percent improvement over the amount of paper, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard we recycled from our facilities and aircraft in 2009. We succeeded in not only meeting but also exceeding our goal of recycling 25 percent more of the aforementioned materials in 2010 than we did in 2009.
As a result of our ongoing environmental stewardship commitment, Southwest Airlines has diverted more than 4,200 tons of material from landfills and into recycling facilities since August 2008. We are working toward a goal of continuous improvement, measured by the percent increase in annual tons of material recycled and the addition of locations, solar equipment, and recyclable commodities. In 2011, our goal is to increase the total amount of paper, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard recycled from our facilities and aircraft by 10 percent over our 2010 total.
1 This data includes recycling of paper, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard from aircraft and select facilities as part of the Southwest Airlines co-mingled recycling program.