Case Study

Minimising food waste

Circular economy

Initiatives by airlines and airports to reduce food waste have gained momentum in recent years through the development of partnerships with food banks and innovative technology that forecasts passenger meal choices.

According to research conducted by the International Air Transport Association, 1.14 million tonnes of food from in-flight catering was wasted in 2017.

To counter this waste, several airlines have resorted to artificial intelligence to analyse consumption trends, identify unpopular food items and optimise the loading of food and beverages, which effectively reduces waste by 35 per cent. This not only curtails food waste, but also improves weight optimization as airlines are able to offer more bespoke meal choices to passengers.

Through collaborative efforts with a network of food banks, airlines have increased the quantity of excess food donated to local communities, which supports hunger relief efforts as food insecurity is on the rise due to the COVID-19 crisis. Such efforts have led to as much as 1 million pounds of food donated by a single airline to communities across Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States, with similar initiatives undertaken by multiple carriers around the world.

The ability to donate surplus food to charities is largely made possible as legal restraints that treated unused meals as contaminated are gradually eased. Easing these regulations has increased cooperation between airlines and food banks, making it possible to redirect the flow of surplus food from landfills to needy communities.

Other airlines have employed waste management techniques that extract moisture from leftover food, compounding it into a dry power that is then burned for fuel.

Further support for minimising food waste is also a critical part of airport operations. In Latin America, where 220 million tonnes of food is wasted annually, Santiago International Airport has launched a food waste campaign that utilises a mobile application to offer food at reduced prices as they approach their expiration date. In the US, where 40 per cent of food is wasted each year, Denver International Airport has partnered with the nonprofit organisation We Don’t Waste to redistribute food items.

These initiatives demonstrate the industry’s increased efforts to tackle food waste and alleviate overburdened landfills while taking on the challenge of global food insecurity.