October 17, 2019 2 min read

The Old Man in the Airplane: A New Short Film by One Tree Planted

If we're going to truly address the climate crisis and create new ways of living more sustainably, we'll need to challenge conventional thinking on just about everything. That's what Bruce Campbell has done. By converting an airplane into his home in Oregon, Bruce has given us a whole new perspective on recycling. Here's his story.

Have you ever thought about what happens to old airplanes? They are actually made of a majority of recyclable materials, but many are not recycled fully or properly, becoming waste. If we can use our imagination, the potential for recycling and reusing airplanes can be an amazing opportunity. 

Here are some old airplane stats:

  1. The average life span of an airplane is about 25-30 years.
  2. An average of 3 jetliners are retired every day.
  3. Airlines will often sell off salvageable parts. 
  4. Storing a decommissioned plane costs about $60k/month.
  5. There are several junk yards in the US dedicated to recycling airplane parts.
  6. It is estimated that 12,000 aircrafts will be retired in the next 20 years.
  7. 80-95% of an airplane can be recycled. 
  8. Interior plastic panels and baggage bins are the most difficult to recycle.
  9. About 500 planes are dismantled every year, and by 2030 that's expected to rise to 2,000/year.
  10. Recycling retired airplanes costs about $80M per year.
  11. 30,000 tons of aluminum, 1,800 tons of special alloys, and 600 tons of parts are produced every year by the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association.
  12. New challenge: there is no certain way of recycling newer planes built of carbon fiber, however planes built with this material have better fuel efficiency.
  13. Since the cost of recycling airplanes is so high, some are simply left to rust.

When it happens, the recycling process occurs in a special junk yard where the first step is to remove any valuable components and hazardous materials, followed by an assessment of which parts can be sold. The plane is then deconstructed through the removal of bolts, with each part removed piece by piece, some saved for scrap metal. And finally, the rest gets crushed and taken to a bone yard. 

In addition to planting many trees around the property, Bruce has found a way to make an airplane into his home. And while that may not be a practical choice for everyone, it begs the question of why we can't convert airplanes into all sorts of things. Restaurants, Airbnb's, kids playhouses, shops... why not? All it takes is some creative thinking and dedication. Sustainability is within our reach if we dare to try. 

We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?

by Diana Chaplin

Canopy Director & Eco-Storyteller