Airlines’ solid waste disposal faces unfriendly skies

Airlines’ solid waste disposal faces unfriendly skies – Special Report: The Garbage Crisis

Bill Carlino

Airlines’ solid waste disposal faces unfriendly skies

When dealing with the burgeoning problem of solid waste disposal, the airlines have discovered that the skies aren’t always friendly.

Soaring disposal costs, saturated landfills and conformity to USDA guidelines have dumped the refuse from more than 200 million annual meals squarely in the laps of the major carriers and caterers.

“We’ve got begin working on solutions to this growing problem,” declared George Haupt, a director of catering for United Airlines in Chicago. “One day, there aren’t going to be any more landfills and the cost of carting trash will become astronomical. Unfortunately, garbage is a problem that’s just not going to disappear.”

While galley and cabin waste from domestic flights can be compacted and subsequently dumped in a town, city or county landfill, trash from international routes must be burned or sterilized to prevent the infiltration of foreign pests and disease.

“With the exception of canned soda and reusable dinnerware, everything coming off a plane must be thrown away,” explained Mike Marchant, catering director for Ogden Allied Aviation Services at New York’s JFK International Airport. “On international flights, even opened sleeves of plastic glasses must be discarded.”

According to Arnold Finamore, a USDA representative based at JFK Airport, rules governing international flight garbage are the most stringently enforced.

“Any meal-related waste from abroad is prohibited from re-entry into the United States,” explained Finamore. “You must either burn it, or run it through an autoclave (a sterilizing unit). The only other option is to send it (the garbage) back to the country of origin.”

The USDA rules stipulate that international flight trash must be burned to .3-percent of weight prior to incineration. If the garbage is sterilized, it must reach a minimum temperature of 270 degrees in the autoclave unit and run through a 45-minute cycle.

Fines for failing to comply with USDA international garbage regulations begins at $1,000.

The majority of domestic flights in the United States averages one to one and one-half meals, while routes through Europe and the Orient may encompass a two to three meal package.

“Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of garbage coming off the plane,” says Marchant.

Once it is emptied from the airliner, the trash is placed is specially treated bags and compacted into cubic yard measurements. The amount of flight garbage can range from 1 1/2-2 cubic yards.

“There is triangular removal process for airline trash,” says the USDA’s Finamore. “If an airline caterer or carrier doesn’t have its own cleaning company, then one has to be hired. When the trash is removed, a carting company must be contracted to incinerate it and to then transport it to the landfill.”

Mitch Gross, food-service director for United Airlines’ flight kitchen in New York, says that in just two days, his unit’s 30-cubic yard compactor is filled to capacity from airline trash alone.

To compound the pricey trash removal procedure, the cost of carting garbage in the New York area recently skyrocketed from $27.50 to $57 per cubic yard. With a deplanement average of 2 cubic yards of garbage, that translates to a minimum cost of about $100 per plane.

“When the carting companies raise their prices for incineration and transportation, the only alternative we have is to pass the cost on to the airline,” admits Marchant.

In Canada, airline feeders are subject to garbage regulation laws drafted by both federal and provincial governments.

“Our laws regarding international and domestic flights are much like the United States,” said Jane Ruddick, the catering manager for Canadian Airlines international, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Canadian Airlines pumps out some 7 million meals annually.

“But the airline garbage laws for each province are interpreted differently,” she explained. “For instance, the Vancouver to Los Angeles and San Francisco route is not considered an international flight. So the garbage from that connection can simply be carted to a landfill without being burned.”

Ruddick added that each province conducts its own health checks of the garbage facilities.

But the inevitable problem of saturated landfills has most operators scouring for viable solutions to curtail the volume of solid waste dumping and to ease the disposal costs on airlines.

Joel Simpson, the director of quality assurance for the Memphis, Tenn.-based Dobbs Corp., a major airline caterer, says that recycling and the increased use of rotable (reusable) equipment are two possible methods.

“But those can be multi-faceted solutions,” admits Simpson, who serves as chairman of the government affairs committee for the In-Flight Food-Service Association, a 300-member organization comprised of major carriers and caterers.

“When you add more washable equipment you have to take into consideration the increased cargo weight,” explained Simpson. “That affects the plane’s fuel consumption ratio.”

Currently, United Air Lines facilities in Newark, N.J., Chicago and San Francisco airports are performing some type of aluminum and cardboard recycling.

Simpson mentioned the use of garbage shredders and pulpers as secondary solutions to cost and environmental problems.

A shredder chops the garbage prior to the compacting process for smaller-sized trash bundles, while pulpers function by running water through the solid waste to partially dissolve and liquefy the product.

The resulting solution can be flushed through a drain or pumped down an industrial-strength garbage disposal.

According to a Delta representative in Atlanta, the airline is also reclaiming its mechanical and janitorial cleaning solvents through a distillation process onsite. The solvent is run through a heating and filtration unit to separate sludge solids. The remaining liquid is nearly pure solvent and consequently reused.

The airline says the Atlanta facility is recycling about 35 gallons of hazardous solvent per day, thereby reducing the amount of hazardous material dumping at designated landfills.

Delta also blends its used crankcase oil from the ground support vehicles as an economical fuel to sell to specialized vendors.

PHOTO : Above: A Dobbs ground support unit loads an airplane on the runway. Right: A flight

PHOTO : attendant serves first-class passengers their meals.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

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