Flight Attendant Power!
Helping the Earth and Colleagues in Need
The History of WINGS Foundation Recycling and
the Flight Attendant Disaster Relief Program
We dedicate this article on Earth Day 2014 to the flight attendants of American Airlines who recycle onboard to help the environment and colleagues in need.
Heather Bell became a flight attendant for American Airlines in 1987. She hoped her new job would enable her to travel the world studying endangered species. With little more than one year of seniority under her belt, Heather worked with fellow Flight Attendant Patricia Howitt to prepare a formal plan and a proposal for the American Airlines senior leadership team about launching a recycling program. The approach was successful and led to a pilot program in SJC.
Word quickly spread on the line. Flight attendants overwhelmingly embraced the idea, so Heather teamed up with American Flight Attendant Jacki Graham, Quality of Work life (QWL) representative, to expand the recycling program to other stations.
By December 1990, the program had won awards from the California Department of Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency along with the Distinguished Service Award from Keep American Beautiful.
The program continued growing, and eventually American‚s caterers were contracted (at no additional cost to the airline) to remove collected cans from the aircraft for delivery to recycling facilities. All rebates from the recycling were split equally between the caterer and American, with the total of the airline's share going to the Flight Attendants' volunteer recycling committee.
By January 1991, Heather had to make the tough decision between running the recycling program and continuing her studies for a master‚s degree. Flight Attendant Jacki Graham stepped in and offered to take over running the recycling program. At that time the rebate was distributed equally among four groups with 25% going to the Wings Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Flight Attendant Disaster Relief and local charities.
The increase in recycling was impressive. In 1990, American flight attendants recycled 226,000 pounds of aluminum cans. By1991, that figure grew to 390,000 pounds. In 1992, over 463,000 pounds of aluminum were kept out of landfills by the volunteer efforts of American Airlines flight attendants.
In the spring of 1992, Heather and Jacki proposed their gutsiest idea yet. Not far from BNA is a 43 acre tract of environmentally endangered land called the Couchville Cedar Glade. The property is home to the only known colony of the Tennessee Coneflower and 27 other plants listed as rare or endangered. They approached the Nature Conservancy who agreed to manage the Cedar Glade if funds could be raised to purchase the property before developers took control. The company agreed to the proposition: the flight attendants' volunteer recycling program would help buy the land for the Nature Conservancy with $200,000 raised from aluminum recycling.
By 1993 the Flight Attendant Disaster Relief Fund, Inc. had assisted flight attendants through Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew and Iniki as well as the earthquakes of San Francisco and Los Angeles all with proceeds from the aluminum can recycling program. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Andrew and Iniki, over $11,000 was distributed to 56 flight attendants.
In 1997, the recycling program was bequeathed to the Wings Foundation with 100% of the proceeds going to the Wings Foundation Flight Attendant Disaster Relief Fund. Through the years, Flight Attendants Robert Amaya, Jennifer Wilson and Dave Bozulich have continued to make this program the best in the industry. Last year our WINGS recycling coordinator, Dave, was able to add DCA, BOS and JFK to our recycling stations and the Wings Foundation Flight Attendant Disaster Relief Fund (FADRF) helped 33 Flight Attendants. The Wings Foundation distributed $85,000 to 56 flight attendants who were affected by Hurricane Sandy and an additional $24,000 went to 9 flight attendants whose residences were damaged by fire or flood.
The Wings Foundation FADRF provides immediate short-term relief to American flight attendants whose primary residence is damaged or destroyed by a catastrophic event or natural disaster. The program may provide for the purchase of such essentials as food, water & temporary shelter. If you or a flight attendant you know needs assistance from FADRF, please visit
Here are some impressive American recycling statistics:
Flight Attendants recycled 447,500 lbs. of aluminum cans in 2013, which is about 13.4 million cans, the equivalent of removing four and a half B737w from landfills!
Can recycling was up 16.7% from 2012 and helped generate $101,764 for Wings. The revenue is down a bit from 2012 because aluminum prices were lower.
Flight Attendants also collected 75,000 wine corks which were repurposed. Program to date, 530,000 corks have been repurposed.
American recycles over 10 million pounds of materials each year
The TUL Wheel and Brake shop is now a zero-waste to landfill facility
Please see the Flight Service Recycle page for more information on products that can be recycled (including an update on onboard paper and plastic at almost all domestic stations), recycling procedures, and Wings and station recycling info.
If you‚d like even more information about recycling from the Wings Foundation or the National FADRF please contact:
Lisa Lonvick Krichelle Zuniga
WINGS National Recycling Coordinator WINGS National FADRF Coordinator
Recycling@WingsFoundation.com (707) 235-3569
After decades of recycling onboard, our aluminum recycling process has been streamlined to 2 simple steps:
Place the cans in an insert.
Put the insert in a cart.
Just remember to keep the cans out of the trash. They don't need to be empty; they just need to be in an insert/drawer.
The Wings Foundation is looking for Flight Attendant Environmental Advocates at every base to spread the word and advance our recycling efforts. All you need is a passion for our environment and your @aa.com email address. If you‚re interested, contact Lisa Lonvick at Recycling@WingsFoundation.com
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