What happens to all those uneaten inflight meals?
Despite the name, Cathay Pacific Catering Services (CPCS) doesn’t just work with Cathay Pacific. In fact, CPCS handles the catering requirements of more than 45 airlines that fly from Hong Kong.
The numbers are boggling. In 2016, it supplied 30 million meal trays from its base at Hong Kong – that’s more than 82,000 a day.
Try as you might to mitigate the problem, food waste is an issue. When bad weather leads to flight cancellations, the issue gets worse.
How do you deal with food waste? By not wasting food.
Cathay Pacific has been working with local NGOs to that end. More than 900,000 of Hong Kong’s seven million inhabitants live below the poverty line – including one in three of its old people. Many of them struggle to meet their nutritional needs and one in four deprived children do not eat three meals a day.
Since 2014, CPCS has been working with an organisation called Feeding Hong Kong, which supplies a network of food banks.
Henry Ho is assistant environmental and hygiene manager at CPCS. ‘When the meal carts are unloaded from aircraft arriving in Hong Kong they are delivered back to our facility,’ he says. ‘Feeding Hong Kong has staff based there who remove all the sealed drinks cartons and cereals.’
As with so many things linked to aviation, food waste is governed by very strict regulations. In some countries, all unused food has to be removed and destroyed or buried deep – which makes sense for food cooked many hours previously. But for sealed and nonperishable goods, this seems excessive.
The company also works with another Hong Kong organisation, Food Angel. Staff collect unused and surplus food from partner companies across the city, acting within rigorous hygiene guidelines, and prepare lunchboxes in its kitchens for the city’s senior citizens. The food is delivered and consumed within one and a half hours of preparation. The organisation prepares around 6,000 hot meals a day.
‘When we have surplus food that meets Food Angel’s strict guidelines, such as unused croissants from our bakery, we will supply them, and some prepared meals,’ says Ho. ‘This doesn’t happen in big quantities, and for hygiene reasons we cannot use unused food from incoming flights.’
But what of the food that cannot be reused? Landfill is a scarce resource in space-constrained Hong Kong, and there are many initiatives to encourage recycling. For Cathay Pacific, it’s about replenishing the food chain so that there are supplies to stock future meal trays, as Ho explains: ‘We send all of our pre-consumed food waste from our kitchens to a food waste recovery company so it can be turned into fish feed for local fish farms.’
Image credits: Feeding Hong Kong and Food Angel