With a clear target of reducing waste by 50% by 2028, SATS is committed to taking a holistic approach to waste reduction from a 2021 baseline. It seeks systemic solutions – not point solutions – that can be successfully piloted in Singapore with the view of scaling across its global operations. At the same time, SATS recognises that waste reduction is not a SATS-only business challenge, but a whole-of-Singapore challenge – from Changi Airport to hawker centres. Firstly, to manage waste better, we must reduce the waste we generate through an improved management of inputs. At every stage of the production process in both its travel and non-travel businesses, SATS considers the sustainability of its materials and waste management. Working simultaneously, SATS’ airline customers are also trying to eliminate single-use plastics on their flights and have introduced sustainable biodegradable material or packaging. Secondly, we need to track the waste streams generated through the production process. SATS has implemented an AI-enabled waste tracking system in its kitchens to help weigh and track the different types of organic waste, associated costs and why they are being thrown away. That in turn allows SATS to improve their material planning. Thirdly, whenever there is waste, we need to make sure that it is treated in the right manner. Typically, that requires segregating the waste. Finally, its by-products must be managed appropriately or be supplied to off-takers. SATS will be holistically reviewing the whole waste value chain at its newly-announced food hub: From demand planning, procurement and material processing to output.
Challenge 1Segregate and Treat Mixed Waste
Every month, SATS receives over 250 tonnes of mixed waste (2021) from inbound flights at the Changi Airport hub. Mixed waste is also generated from institutional and other catering businesses. How might we enable the segregation of waste types? This requires us to look at how the upstream processes or materials can change to ensure proper treatment of the waste downstream. For example, a new paper-based box and cup introduced on a Singapore Airlines flight can be put in a biodigester together with organic waste at the end of the flight – without the need to be segregated – while allowing the airline to offer a better in-flight product. Alternatively, how might we treat mixed waste and extract value without the need to segregate? Whether on a flight or at an institution such as the hospitals and schools that SATS caters meals for, waste segregation has operational (in terms of time and process) and equipment challenges. Downstream, the segregation of that waste poses a significant challenge. Organic (food) waste comprises approximately half of the inbound waste from flights. It is also contaminated with other types of waste – plastics, paper and some metals – that need to be segregated before the waste is fed to a biodigester. Is there a better technology or approach in sorting mixed waste?
Challenge 2Turn Waste into Energy or Other By-productsFrom kitchen production to inbound flights, SATS is already recycling metal cans, used cooking oil, glass bottles, carton boxes and other packaging waste. It is currently testing a waste-to-energy approach, where a form of fuel pellets is produced from organic waste – also known as Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF). At present, when it is impractical to separate organic and non-organic wastes, the mixed waste is incinerated.
How might we convert waste into by-products of value – monetise waste whilst taking a more circular approach to waste management?
While RDF can be used as a fuel aid or additive in power generation, electricity or heat that is directly fed back into the grid or to SATS' operations would be a more efficient output of a waste-to-energy process .
Another possible output from organic waste processing is compost that can go to local farms as nutrients to improve yields or become animal feed (for example, black soldier flies as fish feed). Here, the quality of the output, how it is handled and the demand from off-takers are important considerations.
Create Circularity of Consumer Products
In the first two statements, we have detailed two specific waste management challenges.
In simple terms, “waste” is something that has no perceived value or use at the end of life. It results from what is typically a linear process – from input to output with residual “non-valued waste” streams. The challenge then is always: How do we treat the waste?
But what if we step back and redirect our thinking to examine what waste is, why there is waste, where and how it occurs? Is waste just a concept in the eye of the beholder? Do we too easily accept waste as a consequence of our actions without challenging fundamental assumptions?
Today, SATS offers commercial and institutional catering, food production and distribution among its services as a leading food solutions provider in Asia. Its food-service solutions comprise an extensive list of products from around the world including ready-to-eat meals, handheld snacks, soups and sauces, as well as raw and value-added proteins.
Less than half of the SATS business is in the non-travel industry, but as SATS develops new and existing lines of non-travel businesses, that portion will increase. Reducing waste at input and tackling the challenge of waste at the consumer end of the chain – consuming less and managing what we consume – are also part of the SATS footprint and will become increasingly pertinent.
How might we design a business-to-consumer circular waste ecosystem? For example, after the ready-to-eat and ambient meals leave the SATS production facility and go into the hands of consumers, how do we close the loop to reduce or eliminate waste? Consider how adopting a circular mindset can change the way food is conceived, manufactured, handled and transported, preserved or stored, delivered and consumed. With emerging technologies and new business models, we can reduce inputs, extend the life of foods, change attitudes towards consumption and reduce non-valued waste. Ultimately, what might a world with no food waste and throwaway packaging look like?