From leftovers to packaging, F&B specialists are working hard to help propel airports to zero-waste status. Tara Craig hears how

Airport eateries – however splendid – are rarely places where one lingers. Who among us has not suddenly pushed a half-full plate to one side and rushed to a departures gate? What to do with leftovers has long exercised F&B companies, but the general consensus among the key players is that a two-pronged approach is required: cutting down on potential waste at the preparation stage and ensuring that leftover food is disposed of responsibly.

SSP Group flying saucer

SSP Group uses prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery to cut food waste

Tackling the problem head on

London-based SSP Group follows a ‘food waste hierarchy’ to reduce wastage via prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery, with landfill a last resort. “Our activities to reduce food waste are tailored to the local market,” Verity Lawson, group head of sustainability, told Airports International. “For example, we focus on discounting or donating unsold food for re-use – this includes partnering with food saving apps, such as Too Good To Go, and donations to local food poverty charities.” 

Paris-headquartered Lagardère Travel Retail has also committed to Too Good to Go, which connects users to restaurants with surplus unsold food. Mélanie Guilldou, EVP foodservice and CSR global, explained that waste reduction is one of 12 commitments under the group’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) roadmap, named PEPS (Planet, Ethics, People, Social). She explained: “Our first ambition is to avoid food waste by optimising the management of ingredients, creating ‘no-waste’ recipes, and other actions involving marketing, operations, purchasing and logistics. When we cannot avoid food waste, we partner with local associations distributing food to people in need or to animals (where products are unfit for human consumption).” Leftover food from Lagardère outlets can be found in foodbanks in the US and Italy, and in zoos and circuses in Romania and the Czech Republic.

US firm HMSHost has what Ann Fondersmith, its senior director of sustainability, describes as “a robust sustainability programme aimed at minimising food waste.” Like its peers, HMSHost works with stakeholders to reduce the amount of food sent to landfill. Encouraged by staff, it has been donating excess food from Tampa International Airport to the Feeding America project since 2010. “Between 2010 and 2021, HMSHost donated over 25 million pounds of food to more than 135 US charities,” said Fondersmith. “When COVID-19 hit, forcing us to close most of our stores, many airports donated large amounts of food inventory that otherwise would have expired.”

Lagardère Travel Retail Relais H chain

Recycling options in a branch of the Relais H chain

Italy’s Autogrill has taken a similar approach to food waste. Massimiliano Santoro, CEO of Autogrill Europe & Italy, told Airports International that improving waste management and mitigating food waste are at the core of its sustainability roadmap, Make it Happen, which launched in 2022: “Within the Make it Happen framework, we work to improve our capability to tackle food waste by reducing its quantity over time along the different steps of food preparation and consumption.” This involves four key steps: developing menus and recipes that reduce the risk of wasting ingredients and educating kitchen staff to be less wasteful, improving the management of food scraps and organic waste (as is the case at Rome Fiumicino Airport, where leftovers are converted into compost that is used to fertilise the airport’s green areas), donating unsold food, and reusing leftover food to create new materials for use at Autogrill facilities and elsewhere.

These materials include WasCoffee, a 100% natural material made from coffee grounds. Autogrill has used it to build counters, tabletops, panels and other surfaces. The WasOrange project is a collaboration with Krill Design, which specialises in reusing food scraps through circular economy initiatives. “The idea is to recycle orange rinds into items useful to the business, such as sugar containers,” Santoro explained.

A third material, Wasbottle, is made from empty detergent containers. Used for the construction of panels in Autogrill stores and beyond, it has featured on the ADI Design Index shortlist of the best Italian design innovations.

Wasbottle from Autogrill

Made from old detergent bottles, Wasbottle is recycled to make wall panels and tabletops

SSP Group also recycles food waste, sending used cooking oil to be turned into biofuels and composting its coffee grounds. This is not without its challenges, as Verity Lawson outlined: “For units in airside locations, security controls mean collections by third-parties, such as food charities, can be restricted.” To compensate for this, the company focuses on encouraging clients to improve their in-house waste management.

As Lawson also pointed out, reducing food waste helps drive efficiency and cost savings: “In some of our client locations, for example, we are charged per bag of waste collected, so reducing waste leads to reduced costs.”

Lagardère Travel Retail has adapted its financial monitoring tools to enable waste reporting and has gone to some lengths to ensure staff understand the difference between shrinkage and waste, as well as how to report each. “Setting those common rules on food waste is essential in order to account for it correctly,” Mélanie Guilldou noted.

In 2022, over 387,000 meals were saved from landfill – that’s approximately 968 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions

Verity Lawson, SSP Group

Tech versus food waste

While good decision-making is essential in addressing the problem of food waste, technology also has a role to play.

As mentioned earlier, both SSP Group and Lagardère Travel Retail use the Too Good to Go app, which alerts users to discounted food. The world’s most popular food saving app, it is capable of not only diverting huge quantities of food from landfill, but of generating income that would be lost if the food were to be simply binned. SSP Group has partnered with Too Good to Go across 11 European countries, with encouraging results. “In 2022, over 387,000 meals were saved from landfill – that’s approximately 968 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions,” Lawson told Airports International. “Since our partnership with Too Good To Go began in 2016, up to September 2022, over 540,000 meals have been saved – the equivalent of 1,362 tonnes of CO2e.”

In addition to Too Good to Go, Lagardère also utilises The Goodr Program, an American app that enables the tracking of surplus food and organises the logistics of dealing with it, from picking it up to delivery to charities.

Wasorange Autogrill

Wasorange involves the recycling of fruit peel and rinds into useful accessories

The supply chain

An F&B firm is only as green as its supply chain, so it is essential that all involved subscribe to the same eco agenda. Autogrill, for example, involves suppliers in “stakeholder engagement actions and ongoing dialogue and collaboration, periodical alignment meetings, environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) surveys, newsletters and information brochures,” explained Massimiliano Santoro.

By 2025, SSP Group is aiming to have 100% of its contracted suppliers globally sign up to its Ethical Trade Code of Conduct, Responsible Sourcing Policy and Environment Policy, or to demonstrate their own equivalent standards. By the end of 2022, 64% of suppliers had signed up to the first, 53% to the second and 50% to the third. The company also runs trials with its clients, including one involving the use of eco-friendly cleaning products.

As part of its CSR Roadmap, Lagardère has set specific commitments that apply to all global operations. It organises workshops with buyers to ensure they have a good understanding of the company’s environmental priorities, as well as communicating targets and monitoring improvements. If there is a misalignment in terms of a supplier’s product or service in terms of sustainability, Lagardère will consider alternatives. Guilldou stressed that this is a long-term commitment: “Since our first code of conduct in 1994, we have worked constantly to build ethical and sustainable relationships with our suppliers. Most recently we have adopted a responsible supplier charter, which includes environmental criteria to make sure suppliers are aligned with our values and the CSR roadmap.”


Unsold food is distributed to foodbanks and even zoos 

Staff commitment

Staff buy-in is essential to a successful food waste project. As HMSHost found in Tampa, it may even be frontline staff who spearhead an initiative. But airports employ huge numbers of staff, many of them seasonal or part-time, so how can F&B firms ensure their commitment?

Autogrill’s Massimilano Santoro recommends a two-way conversation on how best to integrate sustainability into the working day: “We invest in internal communication aimed at raising awareness of sustainability issues and internal policies, but also in trainingand learning activities in order to make people active contributors to our sustainability commitments.” 

Training is also a priority for HMSHost staff. “Local teams will have specific training to help them understand and commit to local sustainability goals,” Ann Fondersmith told Airports International. She added that HMSHost staff “do not like to waste food and work hard to follow the correct processes to minimise waste.”

SSP Group Ritazza

Colleague Codes include sustainable strategy information for all SSP Group staff

Rather than operating locally, Lagardère Travel Retail take a ‘glocal’ approach with its PEPS strategy. “At a corporate level, a PEPS committee and team support the four pillars of our CSR strategy. At a more local level, we empower a strong community of PEPS Local Heroes to embed the PEPS strategy,” Guilldou explained. She echoes Santoro’s commitment to communication, adding that internal company events and the sharing of best practices are also important. In France, Lagardère set up the Go Green challenge, to engage staff with CSR topics and foster entrepreneurial, cross-functional collaboration. Forty-six participants were organised into project teams, with a jury appointed to select the winning idea. They chose ‘Huggy’, an internal platform that gives a second life to equipment and products unusedin stores.

SSP Group has a staff code of conduct called the Colleague Code that sets out the principles and standards expected of employees. It is compulsory for all workers, officers and directors of group subsidiaries, regardless of where in the world they operate, and includes a section on SSP’s environmental commitments. The global Colleague Code is complemented by local Colleague Handbooks, which are included in induction packs for all new staff, including those on fixed-term contracts. These also include details of SSP’s sustainability strategy and environmental commitments.

HMSHost staff

HMSHost teams are given specific training in reducing waste

Getting it right

Asked which airports are getting it right in environmental terms, SSP Group’s Lawson mentioned a 2022 pilot at London/Gatwick that focused on recycling and waste segregation. It involved expanding from general waste and cardboard recycling to include dry mixed recycling and glass waste. The pilot proved so successful that all of the SSP trading units at Gatwick have subsequently signed up for the programme, with a number of them also implementing their own additional waste reduction initiatives. According to Lawson, these programmes combined have already helped reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill from SSP units at Gatwick Airport by around 50%.

Partnership and shared commitment are crucial to generating positive impact

Massimiliano Santoro, Autogrill Europe & Italy

All of the EU airports in which Autogrill operates have ambitious waste reduction programmes in place, with some, including Rome Fiumicino International Airport, committing to be zero-waste by 2030. Santoro also singles out San Francisco International Airport in California as the perfect example of a major hub working hard to reduce waste. “This commitment from airport landlords to actively reduce food waste is really important for us, because it creates the right context for generating synergy, waste reduction and effective recycling practices. Partnership and shared commitment are crucial to generating positive impact,” he said.

Lagardère Travel Retail’s Guilldou cites Prague Airport as an example of a food waste success story. She explained that it shares her company’s environmental ambitions, with 100% of the disposables (cutlery, dishes, drinking straws, etc.) on offer at Lagardère outlets at the Czech airport made from eco-friendly materials. “Another airport promoting waste management is Nice, with 11 sorting streams across the airport to suit all types of waste,” she added.

Biolo's PHA biodegradable drinking straws

Biolo's PHA biodegradable drinking straws are available in a number of HMSHost outlets

What’s next?

For SSP Group, there are a number of targets to be met. By 2025, the organisation wants to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic, while ensuring that all divisions globally have programmes to reduce food waste through prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery. Quality remains a focus, including the sourcing of ingredients and the design of menus.

Of course, minimising food waste is just one element of running an environmentally friendly F&B business. Looking ahead, carbon emissions are perhaps the main concern.

By 2040, SSP Group aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions across its value chain. Verity Lawson has admitted that almost 90% of the Group’s total carbon footprint sits in its Scope 3 value chain (encompassing business travel, commuting, waste and third-party deliveries) and is therefore beyond its direct control, yet she considers it an amazing opportunity: “Many of our suppliers, clients and brand partners already have their own net zero ambitions. SSP is in a unique position to be able to bring our different stakeholders together to catalyse action around our shared goals. We believe that, together, we can drive positive change across the food travel sector.”

Lagardère Travel Retail is also focusing on cutting carbon emissions. “In April 2022, we made a commitment to contribute to global carbon neutrality by the end of 2023,” said Mélanie Guilldou. “Our priority for the year to come is to achieve this ambition by cutting down our direct emissions. We are actively working and engaging the company into realising this and monitoring the reductions.” Lagardère aims to reach net zero emissions before 2050.

Autogrill is committed to reducing the use of virgin plastic in packaging but, as Massimiliano Santoro explained, the Italian company is also focusing on becoming a “circular business” through the reuse of waste. It has developed guidelines for the construction of ‘green’ stores that use technical solutions for energy efficiency. For the design and construction of the recently opened Alemagna store in Milan Linate Airport, for instance, Autogrill implemented the Green Store Guidelines, drawn up on the basis of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) protocol developed by the US Green Building Council to certify buildings’ environmental sustainability levels. “This protocol aims to increase energy and water savings by buildings while simultaneously reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Santoro explained.

Their methods may differ, but what is clear is that travel F&B specialists share a common goal: an operation where not only the bottom line and the customers are prioritised, but also – from one end of the value chain to the other – the planet. Those reused coffee grounds may not have made the front page, but they are helping make a difference.

HMSHost sandwiches and salads

Suppliers agree that packaging should be as sustainable as possible

Need to know more: eco packaging

Packaging is one of the most visible elements of waste in F&B, not least in an airport context where so much food is bought ‘to go’. Companies are working to either make packaging material more eco-friendly or ensure it is used only when necessary.

SSP Group, for instance, has global targets for the elimination of unnecessary single-use plastic and aims to make 100% of its own brand packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. By the end of 2022, approximately 80% of the packaging was free of unnecessary single-use plastic and around 85% was recyclable, reusable or compostable. The Group incentivises the use of reusable coffee cups and works with clients to drive recycling of cups.

Autogrill is focusing on replacing plastic with sustainable packaging materials, such as rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate or PET plastic), paper and wood. In the Netherlands, 60% of Autogrill’s bottled beverages already use rPET, while in Italy 100% of its carbonated and ready-to-drink teas are available in 100% rPET bottles. “On guest packaging, we’d begun selecting alternative, non-plastic-based materials in many European countries during the pandemic, so were not starting from scratch when the EU directive on single-use plastic came into effect in 2022,” said CEO Massimiliano Santoro. Autogrill is also keen to reduce the amount of packaging, and although it began offering a non-plastic coffee cup lid within the EU last year, its staff also ask customers whether a lid is necessary. The same goes for paper straws.

Also targeting straws is HMS Host, which in January 2023 introduced PHA biodegradable straws from sustainable packaging specialists Biolo across airports in California, Washington, Texas, North Carolina and Florida.