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SEA Airport Tenants Donate to Community Food Bank

March 11, 2022

First written in 2019; updated in 2022

At one time, dining establishments at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) threw away thousands of pounds of food each year that was still safe and edible but did not meet the business requirements for sale. But thanks to a voluntary food donation program started by the Port of Seattle in 2006, much of that food has stayed out of the landfill and made its way to the Des Moines Area Food Bank, helping to fill the pantries and bellies of less fortunate community members.

Restaurants and kiosks only want to stock the freshest product on their shelves for their customers, so they rotate their foods out daily. Through this program, high quality perishable and prepared food that is perfectly safe to eat can feed hungry people instead of going into the landfill. Donated food includes whole wheat bread, salads, sandwiches, whole pizzas, macaroni and cheese, frozen fish, and pastries.
Starbucks employee clears out the food case to donate to food banks

Chris Keaton, Senior Director of Operations at HMS Host, which owns and operates several dining establishments at SEA, said the Port of Seattle makes participation in the program hassle-free  for vendors. 

“It’s always a challenge to maintain a certain level in our food cases per brand standards,” Keaton said. “That last sandwich in the case is never going to sell because people will wonder ‘how long has that been sitting there?’”

The food donation program keeps that food from going to waste. Since the beginning of the program in 2006, SEA tenants have donated over 400,000 meals. Over 46,000 pounds of food were donated to SEA neighbors in 2021, averaging over 700 meals a week!

In 2020, SEA launched the “SEAson of Caring” community food drive in partnership with the Des Moines Area Food bank and South King County Food Coalition, which collected nearly 500 pounds of food and $4,000 in donations from the public and airport tenants.

Other food waste reduction efforts

SEA also works with tenants so that they are successful in other food recovery efforts like composting and recycling used cooking oil.

SEA composted 665 tons of organic waste from terminal operations in 2020. A local composting partner transforms recovered materials into nutrient-rich soil additives for use in local gardening and SEA’s own landscaping and construction projects.

SEA restaurants generate thousands of gallons of used cooking oil preparing meals for passengers each year. The used cooking oil is recycled into biodiesel, which reduces carbon emissions and black soot in trucks, trains, and ships in the Puget Sound region.

Food Recovery Challenge Award

SEA Airport was twice awarded an Environmental Protection Agency Regional Food Recovery Challenge Award in 2018 and most recently in 2021 for outstanding accomplishments preventing and diverting wasted food in EPA Region 10, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 271 native tribes. The award recognizes SEA’s food recovery efforts like working with tenants to ensure education and compliance with cooking oil recycling, composting, and food donations. As part of the challenge, organizations across the country pledge to improve their sustainable food management practices and report their results. 

“The program demonstrates our commitment to being good stewards of our community and the environment,” said Tiffany Sevilla, who helps run the program at the Port. “The recognition is important because it’s a benefit that we can share with our business partners — it unites us around our common values.”

Arlyn Purcell, Director of Aviation Environment and Sustainability at the Port said airport programs to reduce food waste contribute to many of the Port’s strategic goals and provide an excellent opportunity to partner with airport businesses.

“I’m particularly grateful for our 2020 efforts because we could help address food insecurity in nearby communities during the pandemic,” Purcell said.

Annual food donations from airport tenants:

2021 46,027 pounds per year 708 meals per week
Cumulative total
 510,678 pounds total  

Partnering with tenants and community

The program is a win for many airport vendors, because it provides the freshest food to customers and helps the local community at the same time. Because of this, Keaton said restaurants used to throw away perfectly good food at the end of the night.

“There is a huge need for this,” Keaton said. “We’re a company that likes to get involved in the local community, and we have such a diverse workforce. In talking to my staff over years, they can’t believe the amount of waste and what we throw away in the United States. With artificial expiration dates, food goes to waste after a day.”

Kurt Beecher Dammeier, Founder of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a participant in the program, said preventing food waste fits with the values of his company.

“As business owners and as active participants in our communities, Beecher’s acts on day-to-day practices that improve the quality and sustainability of our environment and its resources. When it comes to these kinds of opportunities, you can’t fake it because it’s not a choice, but a necessity.”

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