Between the long security lines (wherein you must juggle shoe removal with the loading of your luggage properly onto a conveyor belt, all while keeping track of your  oh-so-important ticket) and the delayed departure times, air travel can be a nuisance before you even step foot on an airplane.  One of the few pleasant consistencies of a process that is decidedly inconsistent, is the complimentary drink and snack service offered on most domestic flights. Once that snack cart starts rolling triumphantly down the aisle, even if it nips my elbow on its blessed journey to quench passenger’s thirst and assuage pangs of mid-flight hunger, I can not help but to perk up a little. “A cola? For me? No charge?” I seem to suffer a mild case of amnesia and do not recall the hundreds of dollars I have likely spent on this flight and how that could easily cover the cost of  Mountain Dew or two.

This service is typically followed by your friendly flight attendant strolling up the aisle with a small plastic bag seeking the debris from you in-flight nosh.  What happens to that debris is the topic of a report conducted by the nonprofit  environmental group, Green America. The report’s title, “The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry,” reads like a huge spoiler for the content that follows. Hint, hint…things are not looking too green up in the skies of blue. The report asserts that airlines in the United States of America alone generate over 880 million pounds of waste per year, of which 75 percent is said to be recyclable. Only 20 percent of that is actually recycled!

In addition to all these fun percentages, the report also contains rankings of the major airlines in the United States based on five areas of assessment: the variety in waste recycled,  any future in-flight recycling plans, the size of in-flight recycling program, the education/encouragement of employees in onboard recycling programs and other in-flight sustainability initiatives. The airlines were ranked as follows, from best to worst: Delta Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, Jet Blue, American Airlines, British Airways, Air Tran, United Airlines, and US Airways.  Despite of the rank received, no airlines currently recycle all of the main types of recyclables: aluminum cans, glass, plastic and paper.

While this report may sound all doom and gloom, there is  hope for the airline industry and its apparent aversion to recycling.  The most important variable in implementing these changes  is you, the passenger. Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen explains,  “A lot of companies will do something that’s green if they feel there’s public support for doing it.” Green America further suggests that people become proactive passengers by  doing things, such as: questioning your flight attendant about a particular airlines recycling policy, removing your debris  yourself whenever possible to recycle at home, and  by writing to airlines in order  to voice your support of such programs.  They have also provided a  form  on their website where you are encouraged to share your airline recycling experiences, both positive and negative.

It may be easy to just accept your Mountain Dew and surrender your can at the end of the flight to the trash bag in your flight attendant’s well-manicured hands, but being a decent citizen of planet Earth, you know that doing the easy thing is not always the same as doing the right thing. Encourage airlines to bone up on recycling 101 by writing to the companies and support airlines that do implement in-flight recycling programs. Every time that bag comes around ask your flight attendant “Is there a place to recycle this?” The more they hear requests like these, the more likely they will change the policy. When in-flight recycling is not available, shove that empty can and newspaper into your carry on bag to recycle at home.

And while you are at it-making these hard decisions and doing the right thing- you could do the environment a huge solid and simply fly less. In-flight recycling is much easier to implement when the snack cart is your kitchen cabinets.

-Meghan Hurley

If you’re like us, you have more than one gift from the holidays that doesn’t quite make the list of things you actually want, need or can use. In past years, we’re sure you felt too guilty to discard these lonely unwanted items (either for the unnecessary harm on the environment or the hurt feelings of the person who gave it to you). So instead, the useless crap is tossed into a pile or tucked into a storage bin of other useless clutter that you’re not quite sure what to do with.

Well, with green lifestyles pushing the envelope of tradition these days, there are plenty of new and inventive ways you can rid yourself of excess stuff and old holiday habits in an environmentally-friendly manner. In fact, when broadening the definition of “recycling” from simply tossing the item into a blue bin that your city then sweeps away into the unknown to a much more fitting definition of ‘re-purposing, re-distributing, and re-inventing’, you may actually have some fun getting rid of your stuff all while making a positive impact on our earth.  And don’t forget the popular but hush-hush form of recylcing: regifting!  The gift that lets your useless crap live on forever as someone else’s!

CHRISTMAS TREES & DECORATIONS:

This holiday season, more and more companies and cities are providing options for how to properly discard your Christmas tree.  If you live in New York City, simply leave your tree on the curb and the city will turn the tree into mulch for the extensive public park system.  In addition to mulch, Christmas trees can actually be re-purposed into many eco-friendly uses such as erosion control, soil stabilization and creating habitats for wildlife.  Check out Earth 911 for more treecycling ideas and options near you.  If you’ve purchased a potted Christmas tree from a nursery or garden center, try replanting it on your property or donating it to your local parks department for replanting.

Also, if you are in need of new lights, make sure to check out Holiday LEDs, a Christmas lights company.  If you send them your old lights, they’ll recycle them for you and give you a coupon for 15% off the purchase of a set of new, energy-efficient LED lights (although we only really encourage this if you NEED new lights…remember discarding the old unnecessarily is all a part of our consumption problem).

Act a little crafty and cut up your old holiday cards to make new gift tags for next year.  A fun and easy way to keep the cards out of the trash and some money in your wallet.  And as for those old decorations, always remember that someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure and donate your unwanted decorations or send them to a consignment shop.  This is actually a great tip for all of your unwanted items, so try to make a habit of donating anything and everything you can before trashing.

CELL PHONES:

The national Call To Protect program enables people to retire their wireless phones in a manner that will help the environment and provide phones, with matching airtime, to domestic violence agencies. In addition, the funds generated through Call To Protect collections and other wireless industry programs have provided grants totaling over $10,000,000 to national organizations leading the campaign to end domestic violence.  Keep a look-out at your local bank, pharmacy or store as many have drop-off boxes for old cell phones in their entryways.

TIRES:

According to the EPA, you may be able to return surplus tires to either a tire retailer or a local recycling facility. Be sure to confirm that the facility accepts tires for recycling and check for quantity and size limitations. Some local municipalities will also periodically conduct “tire amnesty days” when local citizens can bring a limited number of tires to a drop-off site free of charge.  Curious about new uses for old tires?   The EPA website suggests that scrap tires may be cut, punched, and stamped into various rubber products after removal of the steel bead.  Products include floor mats, belts, gaskets, shoe soles, highway crash barriers, and boat bumpers on marine docks.  Or, for an afternoon of good old-fashioned fun, how about installing a tree swing in the backyard?  For more information and specific requirements and regulations for your area, contact your local solid waste management agency.

EYEGLASSES:

New Eyes For The Needy purchases new eyeglasses for poor children and adults in the United States and recycles donated glasses for distribution to indigent people in developing nations worldwide. Over 4,400 social service agencies and 3,500 optical dispensers partner with New Eyes For The Needy to provide eyeglasses and sunglasses to less fortunate Americans.  Since 1932, they have brought improved vision and hope for a better future to more than 7,000,000 people in the U.S. and around the world.  Eyeglasses in good condition are also sent to medical missions and international charitable organizations for distribution to the poor in developing nations.  New Eyes for the Needy is a non-profit, non-sectarian volunteer organization.

CLOTHING:

As we mentioned before, donating your old clothes is a great way to keep fabrics out of landfills and the less fortunate fashionable.  If you have an old gown, bridesmaid dress that you never will wear again, or formal dress, make sure to support Operation Fairy Dust, a New York-based non-profit that provides free prom dresses to high school girls who can’t afford to buy their own.  Created in 2002, Operation Fairy Dust has helped countless numbers of girls look beautiful and confident on the most important night of their young lives (and inadvertently has helped our environment!).

If you have gently-worn business clothes that sit in your closet collecting dust, check out Dress for Success.  An international non-profit organization, their mission is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.  Since 1997, Dress for Success has served almost 450,000 women around the world. Each year they reach more than 40,000 women in their international network.  The professional clothing, employment retention programs and ongoing support that they provide symbolize their faith in every woman’s ability to be self-sufficient and successful in her career.

TOWELS:

Clean used towels and washable baby blankets can find great new uses at local animal shelters and rescues.  Many shelters welcome the donations putting them to use as bedding, comforting an animal in the medical department, or for drying a rescue animal after a bath.  Contact your local shelter or the ASPCA to see if they are accepting donations.

VIDEOTAPES & CDS:

With the advance of digital music, DVD’s and now Blue Ray, it’s difficult to keep your old VHS tapes and bulky CD’s lying around when you barely open the case anymore.  Videotapes and CDs are actually a great donation to senior centers, assisted living facilities, and homes for people with special needs.  Some schools and libraries may also accept donations.  Please call ahead and check with the individual facility before dropping a bag on their doorstep.

SPORTS EQUIPMENT:

Again, donate, donate, donate!  Or check out Play It Again Sports, a franchise retail operation with hundreds of locations across the country that lets you buy, sell or trade used sporting gear and equipment.

COMPUTERS & ELECTRONICS:

Thousands of computers, televisions, and other electronics are taken out of service every year when consumers opt for new and improved models (we’re all guilty!).  Many of these, if not most, are still in perfectly usable condition and could be passed along to nonprofit organizations, schools, or used by people with disabilities.  Share The Technology is a website designed to provide a way for computer donors to connect with individuals or groups seeking used computers. Craigslist and FreeCycle can also help you find a new loving home for your old electronics.

Earlier this fall, RadioShack announced the launch of The RadioShack Online Trade-In Program which allows customers to exchange used, portable electronics for a RadioShack gift card.  First, you’ll get a quote for the product’s trade-in value. If the value is acceptable, you can then mail your electronics (using prepaid shipping labels provided by RadioShack) who will take care of recycling or repurposing the item.

Finally, Green Disk offers a convenient, comprehensive set of services to help individuals and organizations reduce the expense and the environmental impact associated with obsolete technology.  Specialized, convenient recycling programs are available for virtually all forms of “techno trash”.

So now that you have tons of great ideas on how to get your unwanted trash on its way to a beautiful, re-purposed life, make a resolution to clean out the house and start recycling in more ways than one!

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