Repurposing with Purpose
At Southwest, we repurpose a variety of items, from life vests to engine parts. By extending the lifecycle of as much material as possible, we reduce waste sent to landfills while also providing social and economic opportunities in our communities.
After some success with repurposing our seat covers in 2013, we began to review other opportunities to up-cycle, recycle, and down-cycle materials. Working with diverse organizations throughout the country, we have been able to continue our efforts to repurpose leather seat covers and cushions, as well as other items like blankets, life jackets, and even engines.
In one example, following the decision to replace our life vests to make each a universal fit for Customers, we partnered with a Rotary Club in Florida to repurpose the 5,000 surplus life vests. The Rotary Club is working to send this critically needed safety equipment to fishermen in Uganda, and we were able to keep nearly 5,500 pounds of waste out of landfills.
In addition, people leave many items onboard our airplanes or in the terminal. While we do our best to identify the owners and reconnect them to their lost items, many items are never claimed. We partner with a national distributor that sells the lost items, giving them continued purpose. All the proceeds from these sales are donated to the Salvation Army.
Many non-profit organizations are also interested in our aircraft components such as engines, avionics, and fuselages to assist them with efforts in education or rehabilitation. Although we cannot meet every request, we are able to assist with some specific educational, historical, or health opportunities. All of these efforts are helping us further reduce significant quantities of waste otherwise ending up in landfills.
Southwest also recycles traditional waste materials including paper, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard. We even find opportunities to recycle used carpet from our facilities by sending it to a recycling company that breaks it down for reuse in new carpet, yarn, trim, or other carpet byproducts. Altogether, we recycled or repurposed 35 percent of our waste in 2016.