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Airline food – not to be wasted (for environmental reasons)!

When it comes to the aviation industry and the environment the most critical issue is of course the contribution of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and their effects on the climate. However, this is not the only important environmental challenge for the industry, as ozone and fine particles are also emitted from aircraft. In addition, noise pollution, and water pollution from fuel and de-icing chemicals are other negative effects that need to be managed. However, food waste provides yet another environmental challenge to the industry.

There have been more than enough jokes about airplane food over the years. The issues associated with preparing, distributing and taking care of food on aircraft is not something that has been covered on this blog before (well, it has been addressed once, but that was in Swedish – link). As the blog aims to cover as much as possible of the full range of issues of interest in the industry, this post will cover the challenges – and interesting potential solutions – to the food waste problem.

That this is a problem that needs to be addressed, which is highlighted by teh fact that IATA published a “Cabin Waste Handbook” just a few years ago (link). In the handbook it is stated that “Cabin waste is costing airlines money, consuming valuable resources, and undermining the sector’s sustainability credibility”. In regards to food, it is estimated that out of the 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste produced each year 20% is food waste. The expected long-term growth of the aviation industry may mean that the waste may increase significantly with time. It is worth noting the point IATA makes about “sustainability credibility”. Flying is still often seen as a transport mode for rich people and adding food waste to that certainly makes for a less than pleasant perspective on the industry.

All the incentives for an airline are against ending up with any food waste. Still, as providing the best possible service is an important of the product airlines offer, bringing on more food than what is needed is almost inevitable. Different airlines try to address this in different ways. Japan Airlines offers their passengers to opt out of meals before their travel. Some airlines, including Cathay Pacific, donates what is left untouched to food banks in Hong Kong. More advanced methods, such as using image recognition to identify the least popular items, are also being used. Airports also try to find ways to handle food waste. Santiago International Airport sells food with a discount as it comes close to expiration dates. Denver International Airport is working with a nonprofit organisation to make good use of food that would otherwise be wasted.

An interesting initiative comes from Swiss, who have partnered with the company “Too Good To Go” (see link to article below). This is a company that works with grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, hotels, and other in the food industry to minimise food waste. This is done by selling food that would otherwise go to waste via an app for a heavily discounted price. Even though SWISS also uses data and analysis to only take as much food as will be handed out or sold, the match between what if offered and what is consumed will rarely be perfect. If there is leftover food, a few items will each go into different bags and then offered to passengers for a price as low as a third of the original cost. This does not only save food from being wasted, it also provides a small income for the airline (better than getting no money for the food) and reduces the problem of handling food waste.

With clever initiatives like the one from SWISS, and others previously mentioned, there is a good chance that the problem of food waste can be significantly reduced. Aviation certainly do not need any further reasons for negative publicity in regards to environmental reasons, so there is good reasons to take a problem that is manageable off the table. There may be a challenge to match this with passenger expectations and demands for their meal choice or extra food item. Sometimes these are not easy situations for cabin crew to handle, but maybe the occasional offering of a bargain on a bag of food items will help to highlight the problem (and help someone who still is hungry to manage their challenge).

Link to main article for reference:
SWISS To Slash Price Of Uneaten Food In A Bid To Avoid Waste


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