What do Cruise Ships do with Food Waste?

Do you ever wonder what cruise ships do with all that leftover food?  

When you think of all the thousands of people onboard and the vast amount of food served across various dining rooms and restaurants, it soon amounts to tonnes.

Over a year, it amounts to 100’s of million tonnes.

What happens to cruise food waste?

Is the unserved food offered to the crew or liquefied and dumped in the ocean as fish food?

Here we look at where it goes and whether it is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

What do Cruise Ships do With Left Over Food?

Typically food waste food is collected in buckets, hether it’s chef’s scraps from the food preparation or waiters bringing back guest’s leftovers, it’s then chucked into a suction drain which sucks the food down a pipe system connected to each galley and all eventually leading down to a hydro-processor.

The food is broken down within the hydro-processor by constantly passing through the tiny holed mesh, breaking the food into tiny particles, before being stored in large tanks.

Whatever remains is typically incinerated or released into the ocean depending on the cruise lines chosen methods.

Royal Caribbean Food Waste

The vast majority of food is included in a Royal Caribbean cruise. The video below is an example of how Royal Caribbean cruise ships deal with food waste.

It shows the buckets of food waste being put into the suction drain and how the pipes from all the different suction drain from food areas around the ship connect and ultimately lead to the hydroprocessing.

Carnival Cruise Bio-Digesters

Cruise lines are giving the issue of food waste much more attention.

One example is Carnival Cruise which has installed bio-digesters on every ship in the fleet.

A bio-digester utilizes microorganisms to digest food.  Water and an oxygen supply (aerobic digestion) are provided to ensure the microorganisms can flourish and feed on the food, breaking it down. 

With this method, 99% of the food can be broken down leaving just a relatively small amount of silt which can be disposed of in the sea.   

Utilizing microorganisms in this way is a very similar process to which human waste on a cruise ship is also broken down.

Using bio-digestors, Carnival Cruises estimate 94 million tonnes of food will be digested across the fleet annually.

Carnival Cruise Bio-Digesters

Do the Crew Eat the Leftovers?

On most cruise ships, the crew mess is served from a separate crew galley.  They do not eat the same foods as served to the guests.  Instead, they are offered a much more basic meal offering, much as you would expect from any workplace.

The crew certainly do no not eat any leftovers in terms of food that has in anyway been served to passengers.

However, at times they may be offered food that was prepared for passengers but never left the galley.

Is Leftover Food Served The Next Day?

Leftover food is not used the following day.  Cruise lines pride themselves and their reputations on the quality and freshness of the food they provide for their passengers.

It would be unhygienic and a potential health hazard if leftover food was saved and served the following day.

The last thing a cruise line wants to risk is food poisoning any of their guests.  

Do Cruise Ships Dump Food in the Ocean?

Food waste can legally be dumped in the sea.   No processing requirements are in place.

Just because food dumping is allowed does not mean it is safe to practice, and in fact, can be very harmful to some more fragile marine environments.

Some cruise lines process the food waste to break it down as much as possible and incinerate whatever is left.

Others store it until it can be removed and later recycled into fertilizers or turn it into biogas, as in the case of Viking cruiseferries MS Viking Grace and MS Viking XPRS, and possibly more vessels.

Food Waste Disposal Regulations 

Regulations are set by MARPOL, “The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.” 

Annex V states (source):

Food waste comminuted or ground can be disposed of 3 nautical miles en route and as far as practicable from coastlines outside of special and arctic waters and 12 nautical miles from the land if within special and arctic waters.

Food waste not comminuted or ground can be disposed of 12 nautical miles, en route and as far as practicable from coastlines outside of special and arctic waters.   Discharge is prohibited within special and arctic waters.

Comminuted means to reduce to tiny fragments or particles.  

What Happens To Extra Food On Cruise?

All unserved food is stored in refrigerators and freezers.  Any unused food at the end of a cruise is carried to the next cruise.

Many foods have a long shelf life, frozen foods being one example, but also many dry goods such as pasta, rice, flour, and sugar.  These are simply stored, and stock levels are topped up when required.

Fresh food is rotated, so the food with the shortest shelf life is used first. 

How Do They Keep Food Fresh On Cruise Ships?

Food is stored in such ways as to keep the food fresh for as long as possible.  Cruise ships have refrigerators, freezers, and storage rooms for dry foods.

Where relevant, before setting off a cruise ship, they will order fresh fruit in various stages of ripeness.  Taking bananas as an example, a percentage of what they order will be ready to consume in the first couple of days, but they will also order greener bananas that will ripen over time and be ready to use on the last days of the cruise.

Fresh supplies can also be topped up at various ports of call.  For example, fresh salmon in Alaska.

How Do Cruise Ships Reduce Food Waste?

Cruise ships want to minimize food waste as much as possible without affecting the passenger’s dining experiences.

While they do not want to run short of any particular food and meals on the menus, they have a very good idea from past data of how much food stocks they need and how much should be prepared on average per passenger.

Food stock levels will be constantly monitored, cruise lines certainly don’t want food to be wasted as, ultimately, it reduces the cruise line’s profits.

We Can All Play a Part in Reducing Food Waste

One of the main sources of leftover food is us, the passengers.  Especially at all, you can eat buffets. Sometimes people choose way more than they can actually eat when trying as many of the delicious-looking items on the many and end up leaving large amounts of leftovers.

Is Cruise Line Food Waste Turned Into Fish Food?

Waste cruise line food is often processed, ground down into tiny particles, and released into the oceans within permitted areas.    Cruise lines sometimes refer to this as “fish food”.

The food is fish food in the sense of being processed, dried, and packaged up for sale as fish food.

While some fish no doubt can eat the dumped food particles as they lay on the surface of the sea, much of it will also drift towards the seabed and be eaten along the way or ultimately consumed by bottom feeders, such as prawns.

This may seem harmless enough, but it can be especially harmful for some fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs.  Much of the food will be covered in chemicals from pesticides and herbicides, which could potentially poison the fish.

 There have been reports of food waste dumped in these coral reef areas and having a detrimental effect on the health of the regions.

While on the subject of feeding fish, have you ever wondered if you can fish off a cruise ship?  Either way, some passengers have given it a go.

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