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Is the reusable tableware the best option? Analysis of the aviation catering sector with a life cycle approach

Blanca-Alcubilla, Gonzalo, Bala, Alba, de Castro, Nieves, Colomé, Rosa, Fullana-i-Palmer, Pere
The Science of the total environment 2020 v.708 pp. 135121
aircraft, airports, aviation, case studies, catering, design for environment, flight, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, life cycle assessment, menu planning, packaging, paper, tourists, travel, trays, Iberian Peninsula, Spain
Annually, around 7.7 billion passengers travel by plane. The menus served during the flight are quite similar between different airlines and are composed of the food itself, packaging (paper envelopes, film, etc.) and tableware (mainly trays, plates, glasses, cups and cutlery). In 2016, 1522 tonnes of tourist class menus were served in Iberia aircrafts landing at Madrid Barajas airport in Spain. From this amount, 51% by weight was packaging and tableware, and the remaining 49% food. As changes in the food has little room for maneuver, since the same amount would be delivered regardless how it is served, this study focus on the possibilities of packaging and tableware to reduce GHG emissions. The assessment has been done using life cycle assessment methodology (LCA) in order to identify the hotspots along the whole life cycle of packaging and tableware items. The case study chosen was the catering service of Iberia, the national airline of Spain. The functional unit used was “the service of 1,000 tourist class menus on Iberia flights that landed in Madrid in 2016”.The results show that the impacts of reusable and single use items take place at different stages of their life cycles. For reusable ones, 76% of the impact is produced during the flight phase, meanwhile, for single use ones, 53% of the impact comes from the production stage.Variables such as material, weight and the number of reuses can greatly influence greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. From the results of the analysis some eco-design strategies has been proposed and analysed. The paper reveals that the lighter single-use packaging and tableware for airline catering are less harmful under a life cycle perspective become.