Recycling In Plane Sight: Sea-Tac Airport’s Smart Program

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Creative Commons License photo credit: cnewtoncom

Do you think about recycling when you travel? With the first big travel day of the holiday season upon us, here’s a look at an airport recycling model to get excited about.

From bottles and cans to coffee grounds and cooking oil, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) knows how to reduce its environmental footprint and save money.

Recycling at this airport is now as standard as trash collecting. Through its recycling program, Sea-Tac saves more than $180,000 in disposal costs!

Sea-Tac currently ranks as the 17th busiest passenger airport in the United States, serving 31 million passengers and moving more than 269,000 metric tons of air cargo in 2009. During the first year of its recycling program, Sea-Tac collected about 112 tons of recyclables. Before the redesign, Sea-Tac’s recycling program only collected bottles and cans in terminals. They now provide recycling opportunities for beverage containers, mixed paper, cardboard, batteries, printer/copier cartridges, metals, and even coffee grounds and cooking oil. Besides increasing types of recyclables, they’ve branched out from collecting in airport terminals only to include retail stores, maintenance buildings, airport offices, food concessions, taxi stands, and garages for certain airlines.

Redesign Helps People Recycle More

Redesigning recycling bin signs actually made a huge difference. Not only did this redesign add graphics so that international passengers would recognize the recycling bins, it lead to an increase in public recycling by 40%. Some new recycling bins also included advertising space, which helped pay for program costs.

Total recycling tonnage increased by 900% percent between 2001 and 2005. Today, Sea-Tac recycles as much in one month as it used to collect in one year!

Some especially awesome recycling tactics:

  • Sea-Tac collects coffee grounds from the 60 airport shops that sell coffee. Using special bins to capture the grounds, the 12 tons of coffee generated each month are mixed with yard waste and sent to a composter. The compost is then used in Sea-Tac’s landscaping.
  • Cooking oil is collected from airport restaurants and snack bars and sold to private companies that use it to produce biodiesel. Initially, collecting and transporting cooking oil was difficult. To remedy this they use specially designed containers that wheel under the fry pits and have a sealed top so oil cannot spill out.
  • To create a financial incentive for retailers to recycle, Sea-Tac installed an electronic trash monitoring system that only charges retailers for what they toss in the trash compactor. The recycling compactor is free.
  • In August 2006, five stores and restaurants joined another waste-reducing project called the Sea-Tac Food Donation Program. These shops now give food banks the unsold prepackaged food that they previously threw away. As much as 500 pounds of unopened salads, sandwiches, and pastries are donated weekly, and the program is still expanding!

Offering recycling opportunities in offices, food courts, and terminals to helps people recycle more, and the best part is that this system can be used anywhere! Notice anything especially neat about recycling while you’re traveling? Leave a comment and let us know!


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