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Airports creating partnerships to reduce food waste in airplanes, terminals

Posted at 7:49 PM, Feb 11, 2020

Millions of items on planes and at airport restaurants never get eaten, but a growing number of airports have found an alternative to throwing it all away.

“The airport came to us and said we’re interested in a change, would you be amenable to entering into an agreement with us to recover all the unused food out of Denver International Airport? We said absolutely,” Arlan Preblud, the founder of nonprofit We Don’t Waste, said. The organization takes excess food donations, sometimes close to expiration date, and gives it to those in need.

“It reduces the amount of food waste that’s going into the landfill which is part of our key mission,” Preblud said. For the past few months, they’ve been making run to Denver International Airport to collect donated food that is redistributed.

“I think food waste is a problem across the country,” Arlan said. “40 percent of the food in this country is wasted.” To put that number in perspective -- that’s about $160 billion worth of food each year that goes into landfills, according to a USDA study done in 2010.

Matthew Karm and Drew Sanford go to Denver’s airport once a week to pick up food. “I call it food gold because it can go anywhere and help many people,” Matthew said.

“Our goal involves the diversion of waste from the landfill,” John Hambright with Denver International Airport’s Environmental Services said.

With 65 million people traveling through the airport each year, there are a lot of mouths to feed on and off the plane. When food passes a certain expiration date but is still good for consumption, it’s put into donation coolers.

“Started out with two donated coolers and have grown the program from there,” Hambright said. He explained that some of their process was based on how it’s done at Portland International Airport in Oregon.

“If it expires, then we can’t use it. The product inside is still good because it has a different expiration date than what the expiration date on the box is,” Bob Phillips with United Airlines catering operations said. They serve 300 flights out of Denver daily. “Everything that goes on the flight, is all done out of this kitchen”, he said.

The donations Karm and Sanford pick up vary every week in content and size -- from blocks of cheese to leftover pretzel snack packs. But the donations don’t only come from the airlines.

“This is just one of the things we can do to promote sustainability,” Ted Williams, the General Manager for Delaware North, said. Delaware North is a food and beverage company that operates in airports, stadiums, and at other venues. They donate $3,000 to $4,000 worth of food a month from this location.

“Sandwiches, we’re talking about parfaits, fruit, salads,” Williams said. All food still good to eat, and stored in these coolers for We Don’t Waste to pick up.

“We have nine coolers available for food donations from all the concessionaires at the airport,” Hambright said. We Don’t Waste operates as the middle man -- between the airport and people who need food in the community.

“They schlep the stuff from the coolers into their truck and it gets out to the community and that’s what we want to see,” Hambright said. Last year, the airport was able to save 128,000 pounds of food from being thrown away. We Don’t Waste is a large part of that operation.

“At this time we recover food from United, Sky Chef, Southwest, along with about 17 restaurants,” Preblud said. “It’s a great example of how there could be partnerships between the private sector, the public sector, and governmental agencies.”

Eventually, Denver International Airport and We Don’t Waste hope to get all of the airport food vendors on board.

“We hope we are a good example of what airports around the country can do,” Preblud said.