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Giving corks a second life, in memory of co-worker

Consumers are familiar with the idea of recycling paper, bottles, cans and plastic containers. But corks? Not so much.

Renee Okren, food and beverage (FAB) manager for Horizon Air in Portland, has been changing all that with her "Corks for Mona" program in memory of former FAB agent Mona Gribskov, who passed away in 2002. In the late 1990s, Gribskov developed a program at Horizon for recycling corks from wine bottles served on the airline's flights. Okren recently revived the program, naming it after her friend and co-worker.

In May, Horizon donated 100 pounds of corks to the Portland Children's Museum. The museum uses the corks in its recycled arts studio, which helps kids create earth-friendly construction projects using recycled materials.

"Mona loved helping others, and she donated a lot of time to the community," Okren says. "The Children's Museum has a need for a lot of recycled supplies, so this is our way of helping and doing it in her name."

For the past few years, Okren has been slowly collecting corks with the help of flight attendants who were with the company when Gribskov first launched her program, and who continued to send in corks from their flights. However, Okren was unsure of what to do with the corks she collected until Norma Seeley, customer services manager for Horizon's Portland station, put her in touch with the Portland Children's Museum.

Earlier this spring, Seeley attended an event at the museum, serving as a Horizon representative. At the event, she learned about the museum's need for corks. She immediately thought of Okren's collection, put her in touch with the museum, and a partnership was launched.

Wine corks are just one example of the many inflight service items that Horizon recycles. Among the others are glass bottles of beer and wine, water bottles (minus the screw-on tops), aluminum cans, clear plastic cups, shrink wrap and newspapers. And at Horizon's hubs in Portland and Seattle, coffee grounds and filters are diverted to food scrap composting programs.

Last year, Horizon began periodic waste assessments to measure the rate of recovery of recyclable items from flights. The results: About 70 percent (by weight) of Horizon's onboard waste was being recycled and, in the case of some flights, 95 percent of recyclable items was being diverted for recycling. For more, see "Improving Our Environmental Footprint," a 40-page report detailing Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines efforts in this area.

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