On long-haul flights, passengers are served drinks and meals. So far, so normal. This generates a lot of waste such as packaging, plastic, and leftover food. Lufthansa Industry Solutions
is addressing this issue. What concepts can the think tank offer the market to reduce waste in aviation, save food from ending in garbage cans, and reduce fossil fuel burn, as
CargoForwarder Global (CFG) spoke about this extremely demanding issue with Stephanie Hackenholt (SH), Product Owner Customer Sustainability at Lufthansa Industry Solutions. This Lufthansa Group subsidiary assists companies in smartening their business processes to reduce costs and increase eco-efficiency.
According to a study conducted by the Food Agency of the United Nations, roughly 1/3 of all food produced worldwide is thrown away. A scandal in view of pictures from the Sahel region, Afghanistan, Haiti or in parts of Bangladesh. Lufthansa Industry Solutions has engineered a platform to create a balance between supply and demand, and thus reduce the throwaway rate..
CFG: Stephanie, your company has developed digital tools to reduce food waste in aviation, on cruise ships, and in transportation in general. How serious is this subject?
SH: Our artificial intelligence-based analysis on food waste has shown that every tenth tray on a medium/long-haul flight remains untouched, and passengers do not consume even a single item in about 50% of all cases.
These findings are used as a basis to optimize ordering and production processes. Menu items can either be reduced, replaced, or removed - depending on whether they have been returned completely or partially.
Additionally, airlines are introducing biodegradable plastic alternatives that are lighter and have a better carbon footprint.
CFG: How, exactly, can technology help to minimize the problem? Do you have any case studies illustrating your approach?
SH: Lufthansa Industry Solutions supports the Berlin-based impact start-up, SPRK.global, in building a global digital trading platform to manage surplus food. In close cooperation with the actors in the supply chain, this collaboration is intended to enable a need-based and rapid redistribution or processing of surplus food that is perfectly edible. The aim is to eliminate global food overproduction and waste in the supply chain. This increases efficiency, saves resources, and ultimately significantly reduces emissions. At Lufthansa Group, we already source specific items from SPRK.global: e.g., the freshly squeezed orange juice which we serve in our canteens, is made from rescued oranges.
CFG: What is Lufthansa Industry Solutions’ concept to lower wastage and thus set a tentative example against the widespread all-inclusive and throwaway mentality of many
SH: Providing the different food choices required to meet the dining expectations of cruise ship passengers inevitably results in a high amount of food waste. Large cruise ships host around 6,000 passengers. If everyone onboard eats three meals a day, that’s more than 18,000 meals a day or 180,000 meals on a ten-day cruise trip. Based on different studies, around 30% of the food loaded goes to waste. This would result in about 54,000 meals wasted per trip, based on our calculation example.
In our own analyses, which we carried out together with cruise ship companies, we were able to prove that food is often cooked even though the containers on the buffet are almost untouched. To prevent this, we installed cameras on top of the buffet to inform the kitchen about the fill level of each container. We extended our artificial intelligence driven data model by adding historical consumption data and operational information, such as the expected guest numbers and context data (e.g., the weather).
The combined analysis of various data allows optimized planning, ordering and production processes, and thus reduces CO2 and the use of resources. The Seatrade Cruise Awards jury nominated our food waste reduction AI tool as Sustainability Initiative of the Year.
CFG: What happens to the food leftovers on cruise ships. Are they thrown overboard, polluting the oceans?
SH: Discharge of waste is regulated by The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Discharge overboard is permitted when the vessel is more than 3 nautical miles (nm) away from the nearest coastline, in environmental protection areas this extends to 12 nm. However, the Directive on Port Reception Facilities, adopted by the European Commission in 2019, prevents marine pollution from ships by ensuring that waste generated on ships is not thrown into the sea, but returned to land and adequately managed when calling at an EU port. Reducing the amount of waste produced on board is as important as the obligation to deliver it to a port. In order to create an incentive, the Directive requires that port fees are lower for ships that produce reduced quantities of waste and manage it in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner.
CFG: Since the demand for biofuels has risen sharply, the table/tank discussion has gained significant momentum worldwide. Shouldn't the dramatic waste of food have at least as much
importance in the public discussion?
SH: According to studies by WWF and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food waste is one of the largest emitters and responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions. 2.5 billion tons of food waste are generated globally per year, while one in ten people on our planet suffers from hunger. The answer to your question can therefore only be a clear yes. We need to address the issue of food waste, work together to reduce it, and use digital technologies to generate far-reaching impact.
CFG: Which channels does Lufthansa Industry Solutions use to proclaim its own concepts for avoiding food waste, in order to achieve scalable publicity effects?
SH: We probably still publish our tech solutions far too little. At the moment, we are essentially helping our existing customers to analyze their food waste and implement the right technological and process approaches to reduce it. We can and should do more. Especially in the context of freight transport, I see great potential to make a big impact relatively quickly. For example, the food that arrives at airports too late for onward transport, could simply be redistributed via a digital platform. I invite your readers to contact me if they have ideas for further improvements in this context.
CFG: Stephanie, thank you for your input.
We are happy to endorse Ms. Hackenholt’s advice and will forward suggestions, ideas, or concepts that reach us through the commentary function (below), directly to her.
Interview: Heiner Siegmund
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