The breads, chickens and spreads that passengers leave on plane trays generate tons of wasted food each year. Losses from this are estimated at US$ 4 billion (R$ 20.82 billion) by IATA (International Air Transport Association), based on data from airlines.
“This year, the in-flight food market is estimated at $20 billion. Airlines report that 20% of their waste is untouched or partially consumed food and drink. That means we are effectively burning $4 billion of value in food in perfect condition,” laments Jon Godson, IATA’s Assistant Director of Sustainability.
Godson points out that airlines are looking for ways to reduce waste, such as giving more menu options to passengers, but that regulatory issues prevent leftovers, as well as other types of garbage generated on board, from being better disposed of.
Per flight, each passenger leaves behind an average of 1.43 kg of garbage.
The governments of many countries consider leftover food from airplanes as a potential biological threat: fresh foods such as meat, milk and fruit can carry diseases, viruses and bacteria from one territory to another.
Thus, the airline can be sued if it is proven that it acted negligently and collaborated in the transmission of a new disease, even if it affects only animals, such as swine flu.
To protect themselves from prosecution, airlines often send onboard waste to be incinerated — including food thrown away by travellers.
Godson says that airline waste management rules prevent not only the donation of food, but also the recycling of cups, plastics and other utensils used on board. In the United Kingdom, for example, there is a regulation that prevents the entry and recycling of packages that have been in contact with meat or milk.
“At an audit at Heathrow, I asked a health official if we could recycle the dried paper cups, and the answer was ‘just about my dead body’,” says Godson. “If a package is treated with heat, how would it pass a disease to a pig? We have an unrealistic regulation”, he criticizes.
Godson says governments should have more control over the smuggling of meat hidden in luggage. According to him, studies point out that around 1,000 tons of the product are shipped irregularly per year, in the middle of luggage, only from Geneva and Zurich airports.
IATA also points out that differences in rules between countries make it difficult to recycle used packaging on board. Some companies are adopting paper cups that have a plastic inner lining. In some places they can be recycled. In others, they are vetoed because they are for single use.
“We can replace plastic with ceramic or glass, but they are heavier. This means that the plane will carry more weight, consume more fuel and in the end will emit more CO2, which is not good for the environment”, comments Olga Miltcheva, director – IATA Engagement Assistant.
The journalist traveled at the invitation of IATA.