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Food waste management at airports

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Gaurav Dewan, COO and business head, Travel Food Services opines that the onus of looking into waste management at airports is not just on government bodies but also the private players who today are prominent in the travel food industry

“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard

Gaurav Dewan

In today’s ever changing and fast paced world, sustainability has shifted from being an abstract concept to a conscious and deliberate effort to create a better future for the next generations. As the population across the world grows, so does the demand for resources. However, more often than not, the demand for resources is higher than what is actually consumed leading to unnecessary waste. Waste management is therefore, one of the primary focus areas for businesses today to not only financial benefits but also creating a better brand image among the eco-conscious customers of the 21st century.
The restaurant industry, in particular, is one of the biggest industries making bold and evident steps towards waste management especially in terms of food waste. Reports state that Indians waste as much food as what the whole of United Kingdom consumes.
A study by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) states that 40 per cent of the food produced in India is actually wasted eventually due to improper handling or excessive demand. With sustainability permeating into every industry, the restaurant industry has been making multiple positive steps towards food waste management.

Sustainability at airports
An avenue that the F&B industry holds great prominence in is at airports. Airports today play an integral role in not only the aviation industry but also the growth of F&B and retail segments. Today airports are nothing short of a shopping mall with leading brands holding retail spaces in premium airport space. The very layout of some of the busiest airports in the world has been revolutionised with restaurants across cuisines having outlets in such places. With the tourism industry booming, footfall at airports is rapidly increasing and following the same increase is the amount of waste at airports. Thus, the issue of waste management is becoming an extremely factor in sustainability measures at airports.
The onus of looking into waste management at airports is not just on government bodies but also the private players who today are prominent in the travel food industry.
Leading F&B brands and lounge operators have taken food waste management into serious consideration to understand traveller’s eating patterns. Through such analysis, what these brands are trying to achieve is a way to identify different points at which waste can be minimised.
A leading lounge operator in the country found a unique way to analyse eating patterns through a dustbin analysis at airports. By studying the contents of dustbins at leading travel hubs, the firm identified those frequent flyers who head to buffets before their late-night flights often serve themselves more than they can eat. Especially in the case of desserts, patrons would often eat few bites and throw out the rest. Upon further research, the firm found that the root cause behind wastage was not bad taste but the portion size. Thus, today, the firm serves smaller portions and has in a year saved up to Rs 1.2 crore.
Another way of managing food wastage is through NGOs in the country who focus on providing the extra food to underprivileged sections of the society. Due to inefficiencies in predicting demand, restaurants often have excessive food at the end of the day at different stages of food preparation that often goes to waste. Many such restaurants today are tied up with NGOs that focus on procuring this extra food from these establishments and provide them to underprivileged families. Through this simple mechanism, not only are restaurants reducing their food waste substantially but also taking positive steps towards providing quality meals to those who can’t afford them.

Global scene
Globally too, airports are actively working towards tackling food wastage. At the Macau International Airport for example, they have been committed towards being a ‘green airport’. To this extent, as a part of their social responsibility, they have spared no effort to understand waste management methods. Recently, the airport carried out a food waste recycling programme, where they introduced decomposition equipment, and collection points, placed at strategic locations. The compost produced was collected by green staff, who then used this to fertilise the plants within the airport. Through this, they are now able to generate an endless supply of organic fertiliser, and bring down the use of chemical products, which are harmful to the environment.
Similarly, at the Changi Airport in Singapore, food waste is put through a special digester which breaks it down into water. The trial, which was conducted over a period of 10 months, saw over 54,000 kgs of food waste being digested, and significantly reducing the wastage that was sent for incineration. To put it in perspective, this equaled the weight of one and a half A320 airplanes. Following the success of the trial, a large machine with twice the capacity was installed to break down larger volumes of food waste. In a short span of about two months, it was able to break down over 32,000 kgs of waste food. This has also been introduced at the new T2 staff canteen, and is actively helping Changi become an environmentally-friendly airport.
Almost every business today is actively taking proactive measures to creating a form of sustainable living. With the large impact that food has in matters of waste management, food waste is one of the most important aspects of waste management in the world today. Brands in the F&B industry therefore, have to be trailblazers in the transition towards a better future. Waste management for restaurants and travel food brands not only help in creating sustainable futures but also reduce costs by significant margins. Through analysis and realigning their demand predictions, restaurants can pave a successful way in efficient food waste management.


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