Just about anyone who flies on a commercial airline in the U.S. is aware of the volume of trash generated in the course of an average flight.  Drinks cans, plastic bottles, beverage cups, paper napkins, newspapers and magazines are testament to how much waste we all can generate in the course of a few hours.

In fact, the average airline passenger generates 1.3 lbs. of waste per flight, and in 2008 airline passenger trips in the U.S. generated over 881 million tons of waste, according to the consumer watchdog web site .

“Nearly 75 percent of this waste is recyclable,” the consumer group says. “However, only about 20 percent is recycled.”

In a new report – What Goes Up Must Go Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline rates the recycling efforts and programs of major U.S. airlines.  US Airways and United Airlines fail completely when it comes to reducing waste.  Delta and Virgin rank highest – but even their grades are nothing the average college student would write home about.  Here’s the complete list:

Ranking of airline recycling programs from best to worst

1. Delta Airlines (B-)

2. Virgin America (B-)

3. Virgin Atlantic (C)

4. Southwest Airlines (C)

5. Continental Airlines (D)

6. JetBlue (D)

7. American Airlines (D)

8. British Airways (D)

9. Air Tran (D)

10. United Airlines (F)

11. US Airways (F) is an online publication of Green America, which describes itself as America’s “leading green economy organization, advancing marketplace solutions for our country’s most serious social and environmental problems.”

Green America said that in addition to the dismal recycling policies of the airlines, “on-flight research identified that some airlines are not actually implementing their stated policies in the air.  As a result, Green America is calling on passengers nationwide to respectfully ask flight attendants if materials on their specific flights are being recycled.”

Victoria Kreha, lead researcher on the ResponsibleShopper report, says “the good news is that airlines are starting to pay attention to recycling; the bad news is that they have a long way to go to improve the situation.  Fortunately, airlines can overcome any of the challenges to creating in-flight recycling programs, including employee education and involvement, knowledge of the type of waste produced, and a time- and space-efficient system.”

Green America urged the airline industry and its trade associations to encourage member airlines to adopt goals for recycling or composting that will lead to overall industry resource recovery of 50 percent of waste by 2012, and zero waste by 2020.   “This goal can be achieved through greater use of recyclable and compostable materials on flights, and increased coordination between airports and airlines in separating and processing waste,” according to Green America.

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