Where Does Cruise Ship Food Waste Go?


Our food comes from a wide variety of sources. Some items are shipped to the vessel from different parts of the world. This may include wine from Italy, beef from a particular ranch in the Mid-West United States, or salmon from Alaska. To a certain extent produce can be sourced locally depending on what is in season, but some items (particularly for the specialty restaurants) need to be shipped for consistency. Ships are well-known for having food available around the clock, and plenty of it, and this presents a big waste problem – wasted food.

Reducing Food Waste

The first part of reducing waste is in the ordering and preparation. An effective team from purchasing, shipping logistics, the store-room staff and the chefs and cooks will help to ensure that waste is kept to a minimum. Computer order tracking is helping to improve predictions for supply and demand, so only the required amount is prepared, reducing any waste. But there will always be some left overs that need to be disposed of.

The portions provided on cruise ships have changed dramatically in recent years. Where a full buffet may have been offered in times gone past, much of the food provided today is served up by ship’s crew. This adds to the service experience our guests enjoy, but also allows better portion control.

Those foods that are free to take will usually be divided into portions as well – for example, having many small plates laid out with individual dessert servings. By taking extra time to provide portions that are better managed, we allow guests to try everything they want to, but avoid the waste created when peoples eyes are bigger than their stomach!

Storing & Disposing Of Food

Anything taken from the ship’s stores, whether it be frozen, chilled or dry goods, has an expiry date. Once prepared for consumption it is monitored closely for temperature and time, and if either one no longer meets the required standard, it must be disposed of. These standards come from the United States Public Health (USPH) service, seen as the strictest in the world, and as such are the standard cruise ships are assessed against.

In saying this, some food products are able to be kept at a certain temperature for long periods. This is why we have freezers at home too! Even prepared foods, if kept at the correct temperature, can be stored until the next day before being cooked. Because guest menus are usually more varied and structured than the food prepared for the crew, food that is prepared but not cooked on one day, may find its way to the crew the next day! It is always a welcome variation from the usual crew menu.

Food Waste Processing

Food that must be wasted is separated from any packaging by waste handlers – crew members employed specifically to manage any waste from throughout the ship. The remaining food is able to be discharged into the ocean, providing certain limitations are met. These limitations include a distance from land (usually 12 Nautical Miles, around 20 Kilometres) and the size of the food pieces – it is mulched to be able to fit through a 25mm grid. This food waste is probably one of the more harmless waste streams – we simply feed the fish our leftovers!

Where a vessel’s itinerary doesn’t allow the discharge limitations to be met, the waste is offloaded to a suitably qualified processing facility. These facilities need to meet the standards set out by each country to correctly handle ‘international waste’ – you can imagine with food waste including fruit, vegetables etc. the possibility to introduce pests to a country exists. By identifying and responsibly dealing with this ‘international waste’, any risks can be reduced or eliminated.

Offloading this waste is expensive, but so is purchasing and preparing food that isn’t being eaten! While going on a cruise holiday will always be synonymous with eating to excess, by taking care in the purchasing, preparing and serving of food, guests can still enjoy the wide variety of delicacies provided, but we can be responsible with keeping the waste to a minimum.

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    • Thanks Debbie! You wouldn’t believe the number of meals our galleys on board prepare – it’s organised insanity at best. Thankfully we seem to be wasting less food all the time! Better for our budget, and better for the environment too.


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