A gateway to less waste: SATS accelerates towards sustainable food waste management

Kerry Mok, CEO of SATS

Food waste management is set to be one of the hot topics in the food and beverage industry – food manufacturers across the industry are set on reducing waste and maximising operational efficiency, generating sustainable results. At the fore of this movement is SATS, who has introduced cutting-edge technology to their operations to minimise waste in every step of the production line.

By Agatha Wong

With the world adjusting to a new normal, demand of food catering and distribution services are back on the rise as air and freight transport resume services. Accompanying this recovering trend is a renewed awareness of sustainable business practices and manufacturing operations, alongside a greater need for waste management and digitalised solutions.

As a provider of food solutions for airline catering, food distribution and logistics, industrial catering, and more, SATS is committed to pursuing innovative food technologies and sustainable practices. With their sustainability framework guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SATS is guided by three key themes: developing smart infrastructure, reducing food and packaging waste and nurturing skills for the future. The company is committed to its goal of halving food wastage and minimising packaging waste in all operations by 2028 from their 2021 baseline, and introduce 100% sustainable packaging by 2030.

Going digital

As part of their efforts towards greater sustainability, SATS has automated and digitised a portion of their equipment and infrastructure to incorporate waste management technologies.

“For example, our inflight catering centre in Singapore is fitted with automated food waste tracking systems where artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled machines capture the volume of different waste streams in our kitchens. This provides greater precision and visibility of our waste output, enabling us to optimise food material planning and improve production efficiencies, thereby reducing food waste,” Kerry Mok, CEO of SATS, told Food & Beverage Asia.

Beside waste management technologies, SATS has also invested in innovations and directly minimise food waste, as Mok added: “We have deployed technologies to retain the quality of freshly cooked food and extend product shelf-life. We have also introduced different waste-to-energy technologies across our operations. For example, we have deployed an on-site biodigester in our kitchen that converts waste to energy in the form of refuse-derived fuel (RDF), which can be used as a fuel additive for boiler systems to produce steam to power incinerators.”

Renewing waste to energy

On the biodigesters, Mok explained that the technology works as a “mechanical stomach”, where waste is broken down organically by micro-organisms into simpler organic material. This reduces waste haulage and allows waste to be repurposed.

“The biodigester at SATS can break down waste in a timely and efficient manner that aids our operations; two tonnes of waste can be broken down in 24 hours. Unlike many biodigesters that can only break down organic waste like segregated waste, ours can break down both mixed waste, such as non-segregated waste, and organic waste. This is crucial for our operations as the waste offloaded from aircrafts is primarily mixed waste. The mixed waste product derived from our biodigester can be converted into RDF. The biodigester at SATS can also cut down the volume of waste requiring haulage by as much as 60%, allowing more efficient operations,” shared Mok.

From January to June 2021, SATS’s biodigesters converted a monthly average of four tonnes of food waste to RDF.

Taking off from the beaten track

These management strategies are compounded through SATS’s subsidiary Monty’s Bakehouse in the UK, whose expertise in sustainable food packaging solution for airline and retail customers have allowed the establishment of the SATS Global Innovation Centre (SGIC) and the extension of sustainability-focussed packaging innovations to customers in Asia and beyond. One such result of this endeavour is the creation of Doodle, a packaging innovation which enables inflight meals to be served in sustainable service ware. Made from natural materials, Doodle can be broken down via SATS’s on-premise biodigesters.

SATS goes one step further with its waste stream management by combining operational efficiency with minimising food waste. As the waste generated from their kitchens are comprised mostly of food trimming from cutting and presentation requirements, which still contain ample nutritional quality, they are repurposed creatively. By blending trimmings and adding them to enrich the flavours of their soups and sauces, the chefs at SATS are able to deliver savoury meals for their customers while also meeting sustainability goals.

These changes, alongside automated waste tracking systems that measure and recognise various types of waste and automatically records them to a database, identifies and monitors reasons for wastage. Consequently, SATS is able to adjust and improve their demand planning and material sourcing. Beyond data collection, the company endeavours to introduce more AI-enabled waste tracking systems across their production facilities, to better gather actionable insights on their waste management and further reduce food wastage. The same goes for SATS’s biodigesting systems.

“Our sustainable practices go beyond our operations in Singapore and we are also sharing our sustainable waste management expertise with our overseas kitchens. For example, in China, we are exploring an AI-enabled waste tracking system. We will continue to explore new technologies like anaerobic digestion and gasification to enable better circularity of waste treatment,” concluded Mok.