Travelling by air around waste management and food’s carbon footprint

Blanca-Alcubilla and Batlle presenting their projectes at the Workshop. Credits: Laura Cugat.

Blanca-Alcubilla and Batlle presenting their projectes at the Workshop. Credits: Laura Cugat.

“We are at the Barcelona-El Prat airport , ready to catch a flight to New York City,” with these words started the workshop “La huella de nuestra alimentación. ¿Conoces su impacto?” (“Our food's footprint. Did you know its impact?"). Immediately, the assistants were involved in an activity consisted in catching an airplane due to start a travel aimed at reflecting about waste management and the carbon footprint from catering food. The researchers at the UNESCO Chair of Life Cycle and Climate Change Gonzalo Blanca, from the Waste Management Research Line, and Laura Batlle, from the Agro-alimentary one, were the responsibles for flying the plain. The session was held on November 24 at ESCI, as a part of the European Week for Waste Reduction.

By a dynamic and participative way, the session pretended to make people conscious about the impacts produced by the food from plane’s catering and the carbon footprint from our eating habits from a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The 12 workshop’s participants had to prepare their luggage so quickly due to start the trip which will bring them to resolve researcher’s questions during the travel. After checking in their luggage and being settled on the plane, the reflection was on to the fly.


The footprint of our menu

The exposure of the questions and their subsequent consideration from the participants made the time short being closely to lunch time. The passengers had the opportunity to choose among four menus depending on their tastes: one with red meat, the other with chicken, the mediterranean compounded by fish and vegetables and the vegetarian one with a pasta dish for the main course. Afterward, due to complete the activity, the researchers went to the front side of the plane in order to present their research projects.

On the one hand, Blanca-Alcubilla, who performs the Life+ Zero Cabin Waste project, explained that his work consists in study the mechanisms that would allow the management of waste from airplane caterings in the most sustainable way possible. On the other hand, Batlle, in the CERES-ProCon* project, is in charge of evaluating the carbon footprint from our daily food consumption, in order to design healthy and sustainable diets in the near future.

After both speeches, it was time to calculate which of the menus was the least polluting. From the carbon footprint inventory associated with the foods on the menu, the participants assigned the emissions to each ingredient to obtain the total carbon dioxide emission of the menu they had chosen and compared it with the other ones. Finally, the general hypothesis was confirmed: the most contaminant menu is the one that contains read meat due to the set of gases emitted by the cows and the subsequent processing of meat. With the enigma’s resolution served, the safety belt light was activated, a signal that the plane was beginning to land at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, our destination.

With the feed on the ground, the initial questions that had motivated the reflection of this intensive adventure reappeared. Then, both PhD students proceeded to solve the doubts. Once the plane was landed, the participants left to pick up the suitcases while discussing some of the most relevant topics of the activity, how the catering waste of international could be treated in order to have the option of recycling without sending it directly to the landfill.

The last challenge raised an intense debate. It proposed whether the society would change when choosing food products if they had a label indicating the total polluting emissions of their life cycle. The passengers, with their luggage in hand, undertook different directions, being aware that it is necessary to spread environmental problems problems such waste management and the emissions from our bites.


* The CERES-ProCon Project: "Food production and consumption strategies for climate change mitigation" (CTM2016-76176-C2-1-R) (AEI/FEDER, UE) has received funding from the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, through the Agencia Estatal de Investigación (AEI) and Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER).



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