While airports are diligent about screening containers brought inside terminals and on board flights, they're not so good at caring for the used, empty receptacles left behind, a new study says.
But Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is bucking the trend with an aggressive recycling program that saves the facility $15,000 a month, according to a two-year study released this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The council, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group with 1.2 million members, praised BWI for its efforts on recycling cardboard, which accounts for more than half of the 200 tons of trash the Linthicum, Md., airport recycles every month.
"BWI has one of the better recycling programs of airports around the country," said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior research scientist with the council who worked on the study, called "Trash Landings."
BWI was one of only six airports the council singled out as having exemplary recycling programs. Airports in Los Angeles; Seattle/Tacoma, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Oakland, Calif., also were cited.
The airport collects most of its trash from airlines and other airport tenants, particularly food and retail vendors. But 43 recycling stations for passengers also are scattered throughout the terminals, collecting aluminum cans, newspapers and plastic and glass bottles.
"BWI is like a small city: We have our own ZIP code; we have our own fire department; there are 10,000 employees in and directly around the airport," airport spokesman Jonathan Dean said. "So you can image the level of waste that can be produced."
The airport recycled 27 percent of all its trash in 2006, according to airport figures. In 2003, its recycling rate was less than 8 percent.
The program keeps the airport, which is operated by the Maryland Aviation Administration, in compliance with Maryland's mandatory 20 percent recycling rate for state agencies.
And by throwing away less trash, the airport saves on the local $43 per ton tipping fee, as well as earning money through the sale of cardboard.
BWI's program isn't unique from a technical aspect, said Richard Keller, recycling manager for the Maryland Environmental Service, which provides technical assistance to BWI.
"We haven't invented a new way of collecting material," he said. "What really has made the program successful has been the partnership that has existed between the various agencies that are involved."
Those partners include BAA Maryland - the airport's retail developer - as well as the aviation authority, the airlines, Allied Waste, vendors and other airport tenants, among others, he said.
Another significant contributor to BWI's success is that, because the airport is state-run, it must follow Maryland's strict recycling guidelines - unlike many other airports that are controlled by independent airport authorities, Mr. Hershkowitz said.
"It's very difficult for state agencies or local governments to enforce recycling mandates against [independent] airport authorities," he said.
The area's two other major commercial airports, Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, are operated by the independent Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Neither was mentioned in the council's report.
The study was based partly on surveys sent to 60 major U.S. airports - 30 of which responded. Aside from the half-dozen airports cited as having effective recycling programs, the council kept the participants confidential so as not to embarrass any airports, Mr. Hershkowitz said.
Airlines nationally discard enough aluminum cans every year to build 58 Boeing 747 jets, the council says. They also throw out more than 9,000 tons of plastic annually and enough newspapers to fill a football field at a depth of 230 feet.