June 9, 2023

Alaska Airlines trades water ballast for e-waste on Nome cargo flights


The freighter arm of Alaska Airlines recently launched a program carrying electronic waste harvested from remote communities along the Seward Peninsula in Alaska to Anchorage for recycling as a substitute for carrying water ballast on empty backhaul flights.

Alaska Air Cargo expects to carry up to 50,000 pounds of recyclable waste each year out of Nome, Alaska, which benefits the community by keeping hazardous materials out of local landfills and saving water in the process, according to a company blog post on Wednesday.

The electronic waste is collected from 16 communities in the Bering Sea region and packed onto pallets by Kawerak, a Native nonprofit corporation that is partnering with Alaska Air Cargo for the project.

The airline will haul the pallets of used consumer electronic products on cargo jets during the spring-to-fall season. 

Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK) is covering the cost of the shipments up to the amount of ballast weight typically carried out of Nome, said spokesman Rick Bendix. Cargo airlines use ballast on many routes to balance the weight of the aircraft when there are few shipments for the return leg after making a delivery. Nome doesn’t produce much outbound cargo. 

Alaska Air Cargo typically sends empty jugs to Nome on cargo flights and fills them with water to send back. Replacing the water jugs with electronic waste will save more than 6,000 gallons of local water each year — the equivalent of 20 days of water use by an average American household, according to the company.

In the past, many used electronic devices would sit for months waiting for space on a barge headed to a recycling plant in Seattle.

Kawerak has used regional carrier Bering Air for more than a decade to move recyclables like electronics, lead-acid batteries and fluorescent bulbs from the smaller communities to Nome.

The new partnership with Alaska Air Cargo will allow more of the electronic waste to leave Nome each year and reach recycling plants in Seattle faster.

Alaska Air Cargo said it is willing to work with other community organizations to expand the program to carry recyclables out of other regions across Alaska.

Alaska Air Cargo operates three Boeing 737-700 converted freighters. The company’s first 737-800 freighter is undergoing conversion from passenger configuration this month at a third-party maintenance hangar, Bendix said. The airline expects to receive another 737-800 converted freighter later this year. 

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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