Alaska Airlines, a Seattle-based carrier that serves destinations in the United States, Canada and Mexico, is committed to environmental stewardship and has built a strong waste reduction and recycling program both in the air and on the ground. In 2011, the company recycled more than 800 tons of waste from its airplanes—everything from paper and cold cups to coffee grounds— and 100,000 pounds of steel from its Seattle hangar alone. Seattle Business Magazine recognized the airline among the winners of the 2011 Washington Green Awards and named it to the 2011 Washington Green 50 list (for which it took top honors among its peers by winning the service category). Among other categories, the airline was lauded for its in-flight recycling program that captured 46 percent of recyclable materials in 2010.
Although it would appear that such a robust program couldn’t fly any higher, Alaska Airlines partnered with ENGIE Impact’s Waste Management Solutions team to overhaul the long-standing recycling program in its five corporate office facilities located in the Seattle metro area, resulting in a 73 percent reduction in spend. Here’s how they succeeded.
ENGIE Impact audited the trash and recycling streams in Alaska Airlines’ office buildings, facilitated an RFP for recycling services to choose a new vendor, and implemented a new waste prevention and diversion program.
Through this process, ENGIE Impact discovered that although employees were already doing a good job of separating trash from recycling (with very little contamination), inconsistent messaging and recycling bin availability caused some missed opportunities to divert recyclable materials from the trash.
ENGIE Impact recommended specific actions in response to this analysis, including:
To help Alaska Airlines employees divert the most waste with minimal effort, ENGIE Impact supported implementation of a new single-stream waste diversion program to be serviced by a local nonprofit recycling vendor selected through the RFP process. Rather than sorting paper, plastics, and other recyclable materials in separate containers spread out throughout the building, employees simply send all recyclable materials through a single, desk-side bin for sorting offsite by the recycling vendor. This also allowed more recycling bins and easier employee access. Additionally, this vendor has the ability to weigh the recycled material at each pick-up, enabling Alaska Airlines to incrementally track the success of their program. Finally, selection of the new recycling vendor fostered a positive community benefit that is in line with Alaska Airline’s corporate social responsibility efforts, as the vendor funds area alcohol and drug recovery programs.
While the single-stream change simplified the recycling process, it also required communication with employees about new procedures. Alaska Airlines and ENGIE Impact created a robust communication plan as part of the change, utilizing e-mail blasts, new streamlined photo-heavy signage showing what could be recycled, lunch-and-learn sessions with the recycling vendor, and more.
During the waste audit, ENGIE Impact also discovered that one facility had a significant quantity of vendor packing in the trash; for example, vendors that were onsite to fill vending machines or deliver supplies were simply throwing their packaging in the trash. The airline reached out to these regular site visitors to ensure they understood and embraced the efforts to increase recycling rates, and the single-stream recycling option made it even easier for vendors to participate.
After implementing the single-stream program, Alaska Airlines saw impressive reductions in the volume of plastics, mixed paper, cardboard and mixed metals that were destined for landfills.
Across all its sites, the changes implemented by ENGIE Impact and the airline reduced annual trash volume by 830 cubic yards. Waste diversion efforts equate to nearly filling three 737-800 passenger planes.
Project activities—right-sizing, facilitation of recycling RFP and initiating a new recycling program—have reduced Alaska Airline’s waste expenses by more than 73 percent, savings that directly impact its bottom line.
Even more waste diversion opportunities exist for Alaska Airlines, and the next steps include: