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Southwest Airlines One Report: Our Environmental Commitment

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This is the sixth of a series of posts about our new 2009 Southwest One Report™—a single report on our triple bottomline of Performance, People, and Planet adhering to Global Reporting Initiative standards.

Mmm…a cold soft drink on a hot summer day can hit the spot, but be sure to toss that aluminum can in a recycling bin rather than the trash.  Why’s that so important?  It’s possible that archaeologists could stumble across your drink can in a dig since it can take 400 years for an aluminum can to break down naturally.  What??!!  That’s right.  Think about that the next time you finish up your favorite beverage in a can.  

At Southwest Airlines, we know the right thing to do is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  In the 2009 Southwest One Report™, you may have read that in November of last year we launched a more robust co-mingled onboard recycling program that builds on the success of our already established recycling program at our facilities.  Our Customers played a role in this initiative by telling our Customer Relations and Customer Support & Services Teams that they wanted us to recycle more than just aluminum cans.  We definitely listened and decided to partner with Republic Services, Inc. since they allow for the collection of co-mingled waste (paper, aluminum, and plastic).  Even though a co-mingled waste stream (versus aluminum alone) can reduce potential rebates, it has given us the opportunity to increase the total volume of material collected for recycling onboard.  And, the numbers speak for themselves.  Our waste diversion percentage doubled just one month after our November 2009 launch.  We know that environmental decisions can also make good business sense and this is just an example.  By diverting waste from the waste stream into the recycling stream, we save real costs to our bottomline, because we pay for each trash pickup. Thanks to the Southwest Airlines Green Team, Facilities Maintenance, Inflight Department, and Provisioning Department along with our partner Republic who have helped us make our recycling efforts even better.

But this is just the beginning.  The second phase of this initiative is to provide more recycling opportunities at all of our 69 locations.  Some of our airport stations are already rockin’ and rollin’, Chicago Midway (MDW) and Sacramento (SMF) just to name a few.  Currently, the majority of our locations that offer the opportunity to recycle are equipped with open-top containers.  The containers have as-needed haul service, which is typically once a week.  Well, hang on to your seat because MDW had 17 hauls in May and 19 hauls in June.  SMF has averaged approximately 10 to 12 hauls per month.  What does this mean?  It means they are diverting massive amounts of recyclable materials from the waste stream and, because of this tremendous success, these two Stations will soon be converted to compactors, which will allow the more efficient collection of recyclables.  It’s amazing to see how our recycling programs continue to gain efficiencies. 

Bottomline, our goal is to reduce waste pickups not only for the economic benefit (Southwest pays millions of dollars every year for waste pickup) but because it’s the right thing to do to continue to protect our environment for future generations.  To date we have saved more than 37,000 trees, more than one million gallons of oil, and more than 15 million gallons of water.  We don’t want it to stop there.  Environmental Stewardship is a responsibility Southwest takes seriously, and we remain committed to continue finding ways to minimize waste and protect the Earth.  

 

18 Comments
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This is really great! Keep it up! 🙂
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Fantastic! I love you guys - keep it coming!!!
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THANK YOU!!!!!! Now just make sure the recycling GETS recycled!! There is NO reason ALL airlines should not be doing what you are doing. I have taken my trash off the plane to recycle b/c the excessive waste from 1 flight is terrible. Thanks for being aware of the planet!!
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Dear Gary, I have been a dedicated Southwest customer since 1995. As a very frequent flyer I have made many suggestions through the years to SW to improve its commitment to the environment we all share. Thanks for providing leadership in an industry that could desperately use it.
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- really like your program. Have been recycling since 1970. -have you ever considered the following: I am not sure this was one of your team, but it happened on my returning from Islip Macarthur NY to Orlando. -the man clearing the trash put a plastic bag that was about 1/8th full, into a bigger bag. Could they not simply empty the little bit of trash into the large container and reuse the bag, instead of replacing it with a new bag? just a thought I had. hugs.....jo PS thank you for not being greedy on the prices like everyone else. it surely helps those of us with little money.
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That is great news! Thank you for listening to your customers and for making that very important change. I've looked forward to knowing that the plastic drinking cups onboard would get recycled instead of adding to a landfill. Next step, biodegradable cups and utensils. Possibly?
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Keep up the good work! I'm hoping your leadership and profits will lead others on to the same path!
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Your entire company really does seem to care about their customers and the environment. I can really tell a somber difference when I must fly a different carrier (as in over the big ponds) on the few occasions I must. You didn't just set up a quick recycle program for "show" to make everyone feel better, you strive for even more ways to make it better!! My hat's off to you ALL!! We love flying your airline! Janice Mack
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I have asked about recycling, and am happy that something is being done. I bring my own cups, but on SW the water is poured in cups beforehand, so sometimes I go back and ask to pour water in my own cup.
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Like the others said - keep it up! Glad to know this is happening. Now I simple want those little plastic glasses everyone serves beverages in to be recyclable as well. 🙂
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I realize that you may be hauling more loads away but can you document that more is actually being recycled? Republic Services has 78 materials recovery facilities which primarily sort recyclable paper, aluminum, glass and other materials. Solid waste that is sorted at their facilities into recyclable materials and non-recyclable waste. The recyclable materials are salvaged, repackaged and sold to third parties. Non-recyclable waste is disposed of at landfills or incinerators.
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I applaud SWA for doing the right thing in this regard. Just one more way this airlines stands out from the pack! Please consider using biodegradable (or reusable) cups and napkins, and larger containers for beverages than individual cans--that would be a big step forward as well. Thanks again!
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Great news, thanks Southwest! It would be great to please also consider using bidegradable (or reusable) cups and napkins, and larger containers for beverages instead of individual cans. Thanks again!
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I agree w/ the 10/3 post about all the plastic cups... On a cross country flight last month I think I must have used at least six with various servings of H2O and soft drinks. I wish there was an easy way to have the beverage poured in the cup that I bring, or use just one of yours. Thanks! Love Southwest!!
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I am a Recycling Specialist for my school district and this makes me so very happy. You are my first choice in flying because of the humor, safety record and now you've expanded my list of reasons for flying with Southwest!!!! It is easy to be green and the greener you are the more green you will make! Awesome job!
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Agree, would like to see use of plastic cups reduced, and would like to see/know/confirm that the things on board are actually being recycled.
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Great! We are glad to hear you are doing this. Add it to the long list of why Southwest is our favorite way to fly. Now convince your colleagues at the other airlines to join in.
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Great job guys -- way to LUV the planet, and thanks for listening to your customers!