What Happens to Airline Food That’s Not Eaten?

by SharonKurheg

Food waste has become a big topic in recent years. It’s been estimated that the world wastes about 2.5 billion tons of food each year. And of that, the United States discards more food than any other country – almost 60 million tons. This is while roughly 35 million people across the country suffer from daily food insecurity.

Curbing food waste varies from person to person, company to company, state to state and even country to country. So how and where do airlines fit in that puzzle? Not very well.

a plate of food on a tableThere are strict international rules in place regarding disposing of inflight meals, so when a flight is completed, any leftover food – not just opened packets but also full meals that simply weren’t served – is brought back to the catering service, who then discard it.

In 2017, IATA discovered that roughly 1.14 million tons of food was wasted from in-flight catering.

Pre-packaged, shelf-stable food isn’t the big problem. Many airlines “save” unused packets of sugar, chips, and unopened containers of alcohol and soft drinks, which are allowed to be reused on future flights. The issue is the full meals – both half eaten and uneaten – that are served on some flights.

A few airlines – British Airways is one of them – recycle uneaten food by using a food dryer. From The Guardian: “This technology removes all moisture from the waste, reducing it to a dry powder that can be mixed into compost or burned for fuel.” Here’s how they do it:

Cathay Pacific has managed to get permission to donate unopened food products to food banks.

Other airlines are either charging for meals or offering pre-ordered meals to help reduce the possibility of food being wasted simply because no one wants it.

So while a handful of airlines are figuring out ways to reduce their food waste, the vast majority of unserved airline meals still go into landfills. 🙁

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

derek March 21, 2024 - 8:29 pm

On one Singapore Airlines flight, I was told that I could eat as many donuts as I wanted because they were going to throw them away after the flight, which might have been 90 minutes later.


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