Airplane Pollution, Reusing Shoes and Biomass Energy. (Ask E)

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Do airplanes contribute significantly to air pollution?--Neil Gladstone, New York, NY

Airports cause as much pollution as power plants, incinerators and oil refineries, although they are subject to less regulation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The hundreds of thousands of airplanes taking off, landing, taxiing and idling each day across the country create smog, contribute to global warming and severely impact local air quality.

Major airports rank among the top 10 industrial air polluters in many cities and have been linked to health problems from asthma to cancer. A 1999 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that aircraft are responsible for 3.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide; this could increase to 10 percent by 2050 as the popularity of air travel rises.

Because airplanes are considered part of interstate commerce, they are not subject to local and state pollution laws. Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration has the potentially conflicting responsibilities of monitoring pollution and promoting air travel. Despite a lack of governmental control, however, Delta Air Lines has voluntarily reduced engine idling, thereby cutting ground-level air pollutants up to 40 percent.

Meanwhile, NRDC promotes fuel taxes as a way to encourage airlines to increase their efficiency. In Britain, legislators hope to promote train travel as an alternative with higher taxes on aviation. Even so, airplanes that are at least 70 percent full are still more fuel-efficient than other means of travel, including automobiles and trains. CONTACT: IPCC, www.ipcc.ch; NRDC, (212)727-2700, www.nrdc.org.

Are there ways to recycle old athletic shoes?--Carmen Wolf, Los Angeles, CA

For folks with athletic shoes headed for the landfill, Nike has established the Reuse-a-Shoe program. Since it began in 1993, the program has recycled some 13 million pairs of athletic shoes into surfaces such as soccer, football and baseball fields, weight room flooring, synthetic basketball and tennis courts, playground tiles and floor padding. The program accepts all athletic shoes as long as they don't contain any metal. The Nike website offers a list of collection locations as well as an address to which old shoes can be mailed. The company also hopes to eventually recycle old shoes into new ones.

The Clean Washington Center is another organization researching athletic shoe recycling. …