Making Old Jets Green Again

Lobby of the China World Hotel, Beijing
Surrounded by the Chindians
1439 hrs.

It’s getting to the point where you can’t go a day without hearing another recycling story. This pictorial essay on CNET today walks us through the recycling of airliners that have exceeded their economical service life.

(The whole concept of “economical service life” is, of course, highly relative. I think Aloha Airlines is flying 737-200s that are nearly 40 years old, while much younger aircraft have already gone through the shredder.)

The U.S. leads in this field because a) there are lots of large surplus airports in relatively remote areas, and b) the country has a highly developed recycling industry, and c) the costs of getting chunks of old planes to said recycling facilities – and getting recycled material to customers – is still low.

Let’s see: South Asia recycles ships. America recycles planes. What about China going into the business of recycling railroad rolling stock?

Anyway, what is interesting is that products made from recycled materials are now no longer just paper and beer cans. There are companies coming up with ways to use recycled wood, rubber, and even carbon fiber composites. The green/sustainability direction the world economy is taking has created new incentives for the recycling business to invest in new technologies.

If recycling is a growing business, one that is ready to pay for innovations, it is clearly another direction in which China could consider investing its “independent innovation” efforts.