PHOTOS: Scenes From Sea-Tac Airport's New Recycling Program

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On Thursday morning (April 15), the Port of Seattle demonstrated a new environmental program at Sea-Tac Airport – a centralized off-aircraft recycling system they claim will reduce waste sent to landfills, improve ramp safety, decrease air emissions, and save more than $250,000 each year.

“This is a cost-effective and convenient recycling system that is coordinated by the airport in order to save money for every airline participating,” said Elizabeth Leavitt, director of Planning and Environmental Programs at Sea-Tac. “Our goal is to recycle 50% of our waste by 2014. This will take us another major step toward that effort.”

Six pairs of large capacity (30 cubic yards) computer-monitored compactors have been installed at convenient locations for all airlines to access. The larger compactors allow more collection, while computer-monitoring provides alerts when they are full, thus reducing the amount of pickup trips by 75%.

Previously, airlines coordinated their own trash pickups. The new system has resulted in 89 fewer pickups per month and could reduce pickups to as few as one or two per month at most locations. Reducing pickups also mean fewer vehicles on the ramp which increases safety, reduces air emissions and saves money.

In March alone, the beginning of the program has already seen an additional 12 tons of recycled trash picked up, equal to 9% of the airports total airfield waste.

The program includes financial incentives encouraging airlines to recycle. Each airline has a key card to access the system which records how much is deposited in separate compactors designated for trash or recycling. Using the recycling compactor is free of charge. Plus, credits are given for the ratio of recycling versus trash to reducing annual bills.

Currently 90% of Sea-Tac’s air traffic is participating in the program. As participation increases, savings are expected to rise as well.

“These new compactors not only help make recycling easier, they also help us track our progress in this effort,” said Jacqueline Drumheller, environmental projects manager for Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines. “Horizon began its recycling program right here at Sea-Tac in the mid-1980s, and the Port of Seattle has been a close partner in our commitment to reduce waste as much as possible,”

Within Washington State, about 75 percent of Horizon Air’s food and beverage service waste generated in flight is recycled, including coffee grounds. Horizon’s inflight recycling program prevents an estimated 300 tons of waste from being added to landfills each year.

Off-aircraft recycling adds another element to Sea-Tac Airport’s award-winning comprehensive recycling program which diverted more than 1,300 tons of recyclable or compostable material from landfill in 2009.

In addition, the Port of Seattle is expected to save more than $300,000 from an approved budget of $1.6 million for the project.

Photographer Francis Zera dropped by the airport demo, where he took these photos:

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Click to Play Francis Zera’s Slideshow

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