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Recycled Airplane Stuff – Why So Expensive?

recycled aviation

There are staggering amounts of recycled aviation materials there for the taking – so why are goods made from them so expensive?

I believe 100 percent that, as a global society, we can’t afford not to recycle. But I also wonder why it’s so hard to afford recycled goods, especially those made from recycled airplane surplus. For travel enthusiasts like me, there are all sorts of aviation bits that are being recycled into everything from handbags to home furnishings. But they are not priced for the budget-minded.

The High Price of Recycled Airplane Goods

recycled airplane

Bags made from recycled airline seats are pretty hip – and a bit rough on the wallet. (photo courtesy of Looptworks)

Exhibit A: There’s a company in Portland, Ore., called Looptworks. It somehow got a hold of acres upon acres of leather from seats out of Southwest Airlines aircraft. They turned all those recycled leather into some cool-looking handbags and backpacks. But if you want one of said backpacks, I hope you have a spare $250. The cheapest item is $150. I love the idea of these goods recycled from aircraft seats. But they leave me scratching my head how they can acquire the raw material for free, and yet charge a hefty premium. I can’t even speak to the quality or features since I haven’t seen one. Looptworks isn’t alone. As early as 2008, Worn Again was recycling Virgin Atlantic leather seats to create handbags. Right now, the Atlas Collection is offering bags made from recycled Alaska Airlines seats. Minimum price? $159. Not too terribly bad for a designer purse, I suppose. I’ve overheard conversations about purse prices that boggle my mind (and those same people would be shocked at the cost of my bike). But I don’t see a backpack in the collections, and I don’t see a price I’d be willing to pay. I love the idea of sustainability. But I often wonder why it has to be so hard on the wallet. There seems to be a disconnect between getting lower-cost recycled materials and selling them as fairly high-priced items. Maybe I’m missing something, but something tells me that we can’t encourage sustainability without making it attractive for the masses.

recycled airplane

Why aren’t there more recycled airplane houses? I’d bet price is a barrier for many.

Recycled Airplane Decor – Just for the Upper Crust?

And let’s take a look at the market for surplus recycled airline hardware. MotoArt offers stuff from old 747s and 707s that is just obscenely expensive. They don’t even list prices on the website. Plane Pieces is also eye-wateringly pricey. Why does a propeller that will never again take to the air hit my wallet to the tune of $4,500? You’ll pay about the same for a surplus ejection seat turned into an office chair.

recycled airplane

From ejection seats to fuselages to propellers, you can’t tell me this one single boneyard doesn’t contain enough raw materials to make recycled airplane goods to be cost-effective.

Just look at the aircraft boneyard in Tucson: The AMARG, as it’s called, is square miles worth of planes that will never fly again. They could easily be recycled into furniture, decor, even homes and hotels! And the raw material is just sitting there! I find this all a bit crazy. So much hardware, so much material, so much of it already bought and paid for. And don’t even get me started on surplus military gear. I found the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom mounted on a trailer for $55,000. By contrast, you can buy an entire, fully functional Soviet surplus supersonic (how’s that for alliteration?) MiG-21 for $20,000 more – a massive bargain next to the chopped-up Phantom.

So, here are the conclusions I can draw – people getting a hold of aviation surplus from Western sources are making a good profit on recycled airplane materials. And rather than passing the raw material savings onto the customers, they’re pricing it beyond the threshold of many customers. This reduces the positive effects of recycling. That seems a bit off. If eco-minded companies want to make the world better, it seems to me that they must, absolutely must, price their goods to be affordable to the masses – especially younger people like students who believe in the benefits of recycled goods. I could be wrong. Convince me.

4 thoughts on “Recycled Airplane Stuff – Why So Expensive?

  1. Trevor Stasik

    Hey Justin! Planes can be recycled into all kinds of things. There was an old Lockheed Constitution that was recycled into a restaurant that was just down the road from me when I was a kid. It was taken down, retired to a museum, sometime in the late 90s. However, lots of photos of it as a restaurant survive:

    http://www.levittowncomfort.com/the-penndel-airplane-where-is-it-now
    http://dinerhunter.com/2012/04/08/the-airplane-diner-penndel-pa/
    http://www.conniesurvivors.com/1-penndel_super_connie.htm
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/23269353@N00/2848946757/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFTa9dkXXYU

    Justin, great post as always!

  2. Kelsi

    Hi Justin!

    Just stumbled across this 🙂

    I actually work with Looptworks doing PR & Marketing and can offer a little insight as to the cost of the bags. There are several factors that drive the price. Firstly, when working with reclaimed materials, the design process is really different. Instead of designing a product and then finding the material which is how design is traditionally done, starting with a constructed product adds complications and requires a lot more experimentation and sampling to get it right.

    Secondly, in the case of this collection, everything is manufactured in the US. This includes the deconstruction and double cleaning of the seats (for which we have partnered with a non profit who employs and trains adults with disabilities), then the sampling and then the manufacturing. All of these things drive up the cost. In our opinion it’s a good price to pay for an ethically manufactured bag, made from materials that otherwise would end up in a landfill that saves thousands of gallons of water 🙂

    Hopefully this offers you a little insight into the pricing of the collection!

    Thanks!

  3. Wandering Justin Post author

    Thanks, Kelsi. I’m glad to have some thoughts on this. I had a feeling there might be some challenges based on the amount of harvestable square footage in each seat.

    Overall, I think the bags fall short in function and pricing. Airlines seats-to-bags might not be the most cost-effective and high-impact way to recycle materials … or maybe a better solution is to use materials that are made from sustainable and renewable sources. I have plenty of gear constructed from hemp, bamboo fiber and even spent coffee grounds; maybe that’s the way to go.

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