Southwest Airlines recycles leather seats

United States
Published:  16 July, 2014

Southwest Airlines, America's largest budget carrier, found itself recently with 80,000 used leather aeroplane seat covers, when it decided to replace all its leather seat coverings with others made from a durable lightweight material.

The change was aimed at reducing weight 600 lbs (280 kg) per plane and thus fuel. Reduced fuel consumption, of course, benefits the environment, but putting 80,000 leather coverings into the incinerator or landfill certainly does not.

Southwest partnered with recycler Looptworks in Portland, Oregon, the airline will turn a portion of its leather seats into tote bags, duffle bags and backpacks that the airline will buy back to use as gifts.

"The water conserved by making goods using old leather rather than new leather is enormous," says Looptworks co-founder Scott Hamlin.

Looptworks, which has previously made iPad covers, is partnering with Apple on the tech giant's new iPad sleeves. Looptworks backpacks upcycled from clothes sell for $50 and iPhone leather wallets for $55. As Hamlin explains, "in many cases, unfortunately, the cost of creating the upcycled material is higher than the value of the material itself. The best way of recovering the costs is by creating an upscale product."

As part of its seat project, Southwest is partnering with SOS Children's Villages in Kenya to teach orphaned children leather working using the discarded leather covers. The Dallas-based carrier is also partnering with Kenyan social enterprise Alive and Kicking to make footballs from the seat covers, and with local footwear company Masai Treats to make more than 2,000 pairs of shoes. In Malawi, the airline is helping to fund a school that will also teach its pupils leather working. "We wanted to find organisations that would help us do social good," says Southwest's senior manager of culture and communications, Marilee Mcinnis.

Source: The Guardian

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