Menu Home

Feeding Communities and Preventing Food Waste at SEA Airport

May 16, 2024

By Jaden Keatts, Port Environmental Waste Reduction and Outreach Support Intern

Food is a vital resource, yet one-third of food produced for human consumption goes to waste. In Washington State, 1.2 million tons of food waste is generated annually. When sent to landfills, food waste rots and emits large amounts of methane — a potent greenhouse gas. 

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) aims to reduce emissions and waste while supporting neighboring communities. Started by the Port of Seattle in 2006, SEA’s Food Donation Program redirects perishable prepared food that is still safe to eat to the Des Moines Area Food Bank so it can feed local community members instead of going to waste. 

Reducing emissions 

SEA restaurants and kiosks have high standards for the quality of food they serve and only want the freshest products available to customers. Products are rotated out regularly, meaning hundreds of pounds of safe-to-eat food are pulled from shelves for donation each day. SEA tenants follow state and federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act regulations, which ensure the quality of donations and protect donors from liability when they donate food in good faith to nonprofits like the Des Moines Area Food Bank. Every morning, food bank volunteers collect surplus foods such as sandwiches, salads, cheese trays, fruit cups, and pastries from SEA. Once at the food bank, donations are sorted, stocked, and ready to be picked out by clients. 

Since the program began in 2006, SEA tenants have donated over half a million pounds of food, providing over 469,000 meals to SEA neighbors. These donations are not only feeding the community but are preventing landfill emissions. If sent to the landfill, these donations would have released approximately 10 metric tons of methane emissions, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 66 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year (calculated from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) “Quantifying Methane Emissions from Landfilled Food Waste” and “Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator”).  

On average, 670 meals were donated each week in 2023. These donations had a widespread community impact as they were shared among six South King County food banks: Des Moines Area Food Bank, Kent Food Bank, Highline Area Food Bank, Tukwila Pantry, Highline College Pantry, and Auburn Food Bank. 

To further reduce landfill emissions, SEA tenants compost food scraps and food unsuitable for donation. Compost bins are also available throughout the terminal for passenger use. SEA even uses AI technology to assist passengers in properly sorting waste.

SEA composted 1,394 tons in 2023. While it is best to donate if possible, composting reduces greenhouse gases produced by food and other organic materials as they decompose. The resulting compost is rich in nutrients and widely used in local gardening and landscaping applications. 


Meeting increased demand 

Within the last year, demand has more than doubled at the Des Moines Area Food Bank. Visits increased by 125% from Q1 2023 to Q1 2024. Kris Van Gasken, Executive Director of the Des Moines Area Food Bank, emphasized the importance of airport donations as they complement the donations the food bank receives from places like grocery stores. “The great thing is that the airport donations are 'take and eat',” Van Gasken said. “A lot of times, people need quick meals.” 

Depending on a client’s living situation, canned and some perishable foods may not be suitable. Since many airport donations are quick-grab items, they do not require preparation or access to cooking appliances. Donated sandwiches are placed in the food bank’s bread and produce room, which is open every weekday morning. Van Gasken said these sandwiches are great for parents with busy schedules who otherwise would have gone without a meal at work. Airport donations support the food bank in serving clients with a range of needs. 

Advancing statewide initiatives 

The Use Food Well Washington Plan strives to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. SEA’s Food Donation Program contributes to this goal. Each tenant donation rescues edible food and prevents the resources and labor used to grow, harvest, process, transport, and manage the food from going to waste. 

Food waste prevention is pivotal to the Des Moines Area Food Bank. Volunteers recently sorted through over 1,000 pounds of strawberries to rescue safe-to-eat berries in containers donated from a grocery store after a few berries had spoiled. These types of initiatives are essential to protecting the environment and fighting hunger. 

How you can support 

SEA’s Food Donation Program is a collaboration between the Port, SEA tenants, the Des Moines Area Food Bank, and the surrounding community. There is a great need for the services the Des Moines Area Food Bank provides. Cash donations make the most impact as they allow the food bank to pay for things like electricity to run refrigerators and gas for their vehicles to pick up donations from places like the airport, Van Gasken explained. They also need clean grocery bags and are always happy to take volunteers. 

The Des Moines Area Food Bank is one of many organizations that need donations and volunteers. Find the Washington food bank closest to you and learn how you can support them. 

Expanding SEA efforts 


The C Concourse Expansion project enhances the airport experience while incorporating many noteworthy sustainable features. One of these features is a second food donation storage location. 

The additional location encourages participation in the Food Donation Program by providing more SEA tenants convenient access to drop off their donations. Equipped with refrigerators and shelving, the location will be ready to store donations from SEA’s restaurants and kiosks, including the seven new food and beverage locations within the C Concourse Expansion. 

Related to Feeding Communities and Preventing Food Waste at SEA Airport

Back to Top