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How to Start a Recycling Program at Your Airport

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

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Airports provide many opportunities for recycling on the go. With increased terminal security, passengers spend more time in airports than ever before and with this extra time, they buy and consume more food and beverages. Passengers and airport personnel generate tons of materials and waste every day, much of which can be recycled.

An airport that implements a recycling program helps make the recycling ethic second nature to people away from home and reduces its environmental footprint in the community it serves.

View and print this fact sheet (PDF) (6 pp, 160K, about PDF).

This fact sheet is written for operations managers, recycling coordinators, and other key decision-makers involved in planning and managing airport operations.

How to Set Up a Recycling Program

Collection Methods

Decide if the materials will be collected as a single stream or multi-stream. Single stream programs combine all recyclables in one bin to be sorted later at a materials recovery facility (MRF), while multi-stream collection requires that you separate each recyclable material from the start.

The following are the basic steps for setting up a recycling program in your airport:

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Recycling Opportunities at Airports

Consult Typical Recyclables Generated at Airports by Source (PDF) (1 pg, 179K, about PDF) as you plan your airport recycling program.

About Collection Bins

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Managing Your Recyclables

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Making It Work

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Airport Recycling Examples

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

Recycling at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) has taken off since its start in 2004, growing from less than 5 percent of waste generated when the program began, to 28 percent in May 2006.

The Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) initiated the recycling program and credits its success to partnerships among several groups. These include BAA Maryland, Inc. and other airport tenants; Chimes, the recycling collection service; BFI, the hauler and processor; Midpoint International, the container supplier; and Maryland Environmental Service, the technical support contractor.

Recycling collection at BWI consists of 33 recycling containers on the airfield and in cargo areas and 43 recycling containers in the terminal building for passenger and tenant use. Each recycling container in the terminal has designated compartments for trash, newspaper, plastic and glass bottles, and aluminum cans.

BWI began by recycling newspapers, bottles, and cans. It later added corrugated boxes, which account for more than 100 tons of recyclables per month. BWI also collects other paper products, scrap metal, and tires. The recycling program saves approximately $15,000 per year in reduced landfill costs, lower compactor maintenance fees, and revenue from the sale of recyclables that offsets disposal costs.

The MAA hopes to reach a 30 to 40 percent recycling rate using the current system and is relying on employee education and training and tenant responsibility to make it happen.

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Buying Recycled

Take your program a step further by “closing the loop”—purchase products made with materials recovered from recycling. If you already buy recycled, consider increasing recycled content. Some examples of recycled-content items are:

Salt Lake City Department of Airports

The Salt Lake City Department of Airports (SLCDA) is home to a comprehensive recycling program that targets recyclables generated both by the public and in-house. In 2003, the concourse recycling program began by collecting newspaper and plastic from 40 recycling stations throughout the two terminals. In 2005, the SLCDA concourse recycling program diverted approximately 70 tons of plastic and newspaper from the airport waste stream.

Recycling, however, takes place on a much larger scale in the airport’s internal operations, such as in offices and behind ticket counters. Approximately 16 tons of cardboard are collected each month, along with varying amounts of electronic waste, concrete, asphalt, scrap metal, motor oil, diesel fuel, vehicle antifreeze, air conditioning refrigerant, lead/acid batteries, tires, and paint. Plant material is collected for composting, and excavated soil, if suitable for construction fill, is placed in areas where future construction projects are likely to occur.

In addition, every division collects office paper, magazines, paperboard, plastics, newspaper, aluminum, and unwanted mail together in a single stream. Employees receive desk-side recycling boxes that are emptied into a larger central collection point in each office area and collected weekly. Revenue generated from the recycling program is used to offset annual waste collection and disposal costs.

SLCDA evaluates its recycling program periodically to identify opportunities for potential improvement and expansion.

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San Diego International Airport

San Diego International Airport (SDIA) implemented a single stream recycling program in July 2002.

The City of San Diego recognized the airport as the Recycler of the Year in 2004, the second recognition from the city since the program’s inception.

Collection takes place in the terminals and throughout the airport’s offices and departments. Fifty collection bins are located throughout the terminals to collect mixed paper, glass bottles, aluminum and steel cans, and plastic beverage bottles. The amount of materials recycled at the airport increased from 107 tons in 2002 to more than 362 tons in Fiscal Year 2006.

SDIA conducts comprehensive program outreach and education to airport concessionaires, vendors, tenants, and staff. The airport created a handbook, in both Spanish and English, explaining its recycling program.

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Airport Waste Assessment Questionnaire

Facility Description

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Waste Generation and Flow

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Typical Recyclables Generated

Typical Recyclables Generated at Airports by Source (PDF) (1 pg, 42K, about PDF) is a chart showing what recyclables are generated and where they are generated.

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