Food waste is a big problem. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S. alone is wasted. In 2010, about 133 billion pounds of food end up wasted in the U.S., amounting to $161 billion worth of food. Globally, about one-third of all food produced is wasted. Food waste in industrialized countries is about $680 billion. Food that is wasted ends up in landfills where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon dioxide.
Airlines are a big source of food waste. Consider that a flight with 300 people serves 300 meals, and some of the food in those meals goes uneaten. A study on flight waste found that an estimated 500 kilograms of waste, including food waste, is generated per flight.
Some airlines have initiatives in place to reduce food waste. JetBlue composts about 100,000 pounds of food waste and puts it back into soil, which saves about 38 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. The nutrients in Dunkin’ Donuts and Jamba Juice scraps were composted at upstate New York’s McEnroe Organic Farm. Crewmember volunteers spread the compost in an urban farm at New York’s JFK airport, where 1,000 lbs. of blue potatoes are harvested a season and 2,000 herb plants. The blue potatoes are taken to TERRA’s factory and processed into blue potato chips to conduct research on new flavors and ideas. Any leftover potatoes are donated to New York communities through GrowNYC. The airline’s goal in 2017 is to compost 150,000 pounds of waste.
The Cathay Pacific Group serves over 110,000 meals a day, and inevitably, some of the food served is wasted. To cut down on food waste, the airline joined Hong Kong Airport Authority’s food waste recycling scheme in 2011. Food waste is collected and sorted from its office canteens, restaurants, crew hotel and airport lounges. Two years later, the airline started donating surplus food from its canteens at Cathay Pacific City to a local charity called Food Angel which turns it into meals served to under-privileged families in Hong Kong. Since starting the initiative, 3,655 kilograms of food have been donated. In 2015, the airline began to donate surplus food and beverages from inbound flights to the local food bank, Feeding Hong Kong, and in 2016, 234 tons were collected and donated.
Qantas started a partnership with the food donor OzHarvest. Volunteers from Qantas and catering centers in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne collected untouched food from domestic flights. The food is picked up by OzHarvest vans and delivered to charity organizations. The food is collected from all of the airline’s domestic flights and taken to over 1,000 school children a week. At the Brisbane airport, 440 to 880 pounds of food are collected from domestic flights every day.
JetBlue, Cathay, and Qantas all prove that there are business solutions to global environmental problems.
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.