It’s a challenge for airlines to create a sustainable image when their very lifeblood contributes enormous amounts of jet fuel to the environment. But Alaska Airlines is thinking out of the box—and seat—when it comes to sustainability by embracing upcycling.
When the carrier reupholstered 6,000 seats on its Boeing 737-800 and -900 planes with Recaro seats fitted with power outlets in every seat, they took all that leather or synthetic material estimated at 18,000 pounds and gave it away to be upcycled. Distributed to 11 organizations ranging from a prison to the Boy Scouts, several creative designers turned the former seats into upscale fashion collections.
Canada’s MariClaRo leveraged its experience turning materials from Air Canada planes into new products by repurposing Alaska Airlines’ blue and grey leather into the Atlas Collection including satchels, tote bags and wallets.
“The material is perfect for this project—the high-quality airplane leather seat covers are made to last,” said Sven Schlegel, who co-founded MariClaR, which is based in the province of Ontario. “One of our basic missions is to show that you can turn waste materials declared for the landfill into designs that look sleek and last forever—guaranteed for another million miles!”
Owning and wearing a piece of Alaska Airlines history—or Air Canada’s, for that matter—takes time. Each MariClaRo order is customized and takes up to five weeks to create and deliver.
“It’s very exciting to see someone developing a grassroots business from something that we were just going to throw away,” commented Pete Roberts, program manager in Alaska’s maintenance and engineering department, in a blog post.
Greg Mays, Alaska’s VP maintenance and engineering added that, “By partnering with these innovative designers, we’re not only diverting waste from local landfills, but we’re giving people a chance to own a piece of Alaska’s history. It’s not often that people can own a bag that has already traveled more miles than they have.”
Proving it has sustainability in the bag, Alaska is the only US domestic carrier that handles “mixed recyclables”—glass, paper, plastic and aluminum—on every flight. As a result, it has reduced waste by more than 50 percent per passenger since 2010, saving nearly 2,900 tons of recyclables otherwise destined for landfill.