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As I watched the crew on board the Holland America Line Rotterdam ship carry off half-eaten orders of French fries, I felt a pang of longing.
I’ve been on the ship for nearly two weeks in October and have tried almost every restaurant on board, including the burger joint Dive-In, and they never ask for a to-go box at the end of a meal. was. land. Since my stateroom only has a minibar and I always order my meals, that seemed unrealistic.
Little did I know that machines would soon gobble up leftovers elsewhere on board.
Holland America Line has installed biodigesters capable of breaking down organic matter as part of its efforts to reduce its food waste footprint, and parent company Carnival Corporation now has more than 600 devices across its fleet. increase.
For many travelers, dining is an important part of the cruise experience, with seemingly limitless options (think buffets) included in the fare. But for all the food that passengers enjoy, there is also a lot that they can’t eat, and many lines are working to improve the processes that handle that waste.
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What happens to food waste on cruise ships?
Carnival Corporation, which operates brands such as Holland America, Carnival Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises, generates an average of 1.3 pounds of food waste per person each day, while some lines generate as little as 0.6 pounds per person per day. You may not. a company spokesperson said in an email.
All of that waste is either processed in a biodigester or dehydrator or offshore.
Some of the company’s ships have long had dehydrators on board that squeeze water out of food waste and reduce the load it can take to landfills, composting plants, or waste-to-energy facilities. there is. “It was good, but not necessarily good enough,” said Bill Burke, the company’s chief maritime officer.
The company launched a “three-pronged approach” to food waste in 2019, he said.
Carnival analyzed the waste to determine what was left, what could be reused in other recipes, and where it could be cut. “If you’re buying food that we don’t use, that’s a serious carbon problem,” Burke said.
According to its 2022 Sustainability Report, the company will reduce per capita food waste by more than 30% compared to its 2019 baseline, with a target of 40% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. I set a new goal.
Carnival Corporation, which operates the most ships in the United States, is also working to reduce single-use plastic, replacing individual yogurt cups with bulk containers, for example, Burke said. The biodigester, which he called the “Holy Grail,” digested much of the organic waste that had previously been excreted through grinding, and turned what was left into a liquid to complete its job.
Other companies and cruise lines are working towards similar goals.
Royal Caribbean International uses proprietary technology to track how much food is wasted, for example by weighing a plate of lasagna before and after it is served, and amend production accordingly. To do. Cruise lines are also expanding on these efforts, such as using POS data to predict how much food to use based on passenger demographics, itineraries, and other information.
“We know that[if]we have 10 percent more kids, we need significantly more chicken fingers,” said Linken D’Souza, line’s vice president of food and beverages.
With that information, D’Souza says, you’ll be able to act proactively and eliminate waste before it happens.
Some initiatives are particularly creative. Last year, Norwegian Cruise Line launched zero-waste drinks at the Prima bar, reusing things like banana peels and croissants in cocktails.
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How do biodigesters work?
Carnival Corp. uses biodigesters from several different companies, including Recoup Technologies (formerly BioHiTech America). The company’s products use microbes and other bacteria to rapidly process food waste, much like the human digestive system does, says technology operations director Bob He Joyce.
“The way we describe it is basically like a stomach of metal,” he said. “If you can eat it, it can eat it,” he said.
But while the machines, which cost about $25,000 to $50,000 depending on size, can take in a wide range of produce, proteins and starches, Joyce says that certain items like walnut shells and steak bones Does not decompose inside. Crew sorts inorganic matter in advance.
The company discharges the liquid at least 12 miles from shore. Holland America Rotterdam has nine in addition to one dehydrator.
“Bio-digesters reduce the amount of methane and carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere while also reducing the demand on our oceans to fully decompose food waste,” says Carnival. said in the report. Biodigesters processed nearly 80 million pounds of food waste in 2022. This would take up about 1 million cubic feet of space if sent to a landfill, releasing about 30,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the spokesperson added.
But that doesn’t mean waste is good for marine life.
Gregory Keoleian, Director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, said:
According to Keoleian, the human nutrition emitted by cruise ships is not typically part of the diet of fish and other aquatic organisms, and their introduction could disrupt complex food webs. “We didn’t evolve to eat human food waste,” he said.
“Our success, and literally our livelihood, depends on doing our part to protect the vibrant marine ecosystems, beautiful communities and scenic spaces in which we operate. ,” a Carnival spokesperson said in an email. “We invest in the industry’s smartest solutions to enable sustainable cruising, including biodigesters that provide the best food waste solutions available on the market today.”
Carnival Corp. also admitted in 2019 that one of its vessels committed an environmental crime, knowingly allowing plastic to be discharged with food waste in the Bahamas.
What can passengers do?
Keoleian said preventing food waste from being generated is just as important as how it is managed, and passengers can play a role in minimizing the impact on the environment.
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This means simply reducing food wastage when dining on board, and being more careful about which food choices you make. “When you look at the impact food has on the environment, the choices they make about what they eat have different impacts on the environment,” he said.
Beef, for example, is more carbon-intensive to produce than other protein sources such as chicken, fish and vegetable protein, he said.
Burke said there are other positive by-products, such as appealing to young travelers who make it a priority, in addition to their commitment to improving sustainability. “I think it matters how we manage the oceans if we want them to cruise on our ships,” he said. “So it’s not just doing good things, it’s doing the right thing for the business.”
In your opinion, is it easier to create more or less waste on your cruise? Why?
Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at email@example.com.