Airlines today are taking sustainability goals more seriously than ever. An issue that often crops up during such discussions is food waste management. While in-flight meals often hog the limelight in such matters, Japan airlines has gone a step further and decided to nip the problem in the bud and start with better waste management in the kitchen itself.
From food to fertilizer
JAL Royal Catering, the group behind the initiative, has come up with some interesting findings. It reported that in the fiscal year 2019, 48 tons of vegetable waste was produced. However, only 7.7% of it ended up being recycled. The carrier wants to turn this around and compost 100% of its kitchen waste by 2025.
Japan Airlines has been sensitive to the issue of food waste for a while now. In December 2020, it introduced the “Ethical Choice – Meal Skip Option,” which encouraged passengers to inform the carrier in advance if they wanted to forego a meal. To incentivize passengers, JAL rewarded anyone who skipped the meal service with upgraded amenity kits. Initially, this option was only given on flights between Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) to Tokyo Haneda (HND), but the airline has now extended it to flights on most medium-and short-distance routes in Southeast Asia.
JAL has been taking such initiatives since 2007 as part of its CSR activities. By 2025, the airline aims to eliminate all single-use plastics in aircraft cabins and airport lounges. It also has a manual for recycling items such as aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and in-flight magazines at each airport.
As part of sustainability commitment, Swiss Air Lines and Emirates, too, have come up with ways to reduce wastage of food. Swiss is currently conducting trials by teaming up with “Too Good To Go,” an app that connects companies with users to reduce food waste. The carrier is selling unsold food items at reduced prices at the end of the flight. Passengers are notified through in-flight announcements and offered bags of fresh food at one-third the original price. The contents of the bag, however, are not revealed.
In 2020, Emirates Food Catering partnered with tech provider Winnow to use Artificial Intelligence for food waste reduction at Dubai International Airport. The AI technology uses cameras and smart scales to identify which ingredients end up in the bin most during food production. It is believed Emirates Food Catering can reduce food wastage by up to 35% through this initiative.
In May this year, air and travel service provider dnata partnered with Singapore firm Blue Aqua to reuse organic waste from dnata’s catering operations at Singapore Changi Airport and turn them into aquafeed. The firm believes that leftover fish and soybean meals could be used as the main source of protein for aquafeed.
The aviation industry is increasingly being put under the microscope to see if it’s doing enough to meet environmental goals. According to a 2020 survey by Inmarsat, one in four passengers don’t think the airlines are doing enough for the environment.
While airlines and tech manufacturers have been investing in greener and more fuel-efficient airplanes and engines, other aspects of flight operations are catching up gradually. Unfinished meals and open packets of airline food often end up at already-burdened landfill sites. As airlines worldwide wake up to this reality, we can hopefully expect to see more initiatives to reduce organic waste in the catering kitchens and aircraft cabins.