Food service workers in Emory’s hospitals have always been conscientious about reducing waste, trying to walk the fine line between preparing too much food and too little.
But when new pilot programs in composting food waste began recently at Wesley Woods Geriatric Hosptial and then Emory University Hospital, staff were surprised to see how much waste piled upâ€”and how much could be diverted from landfills or garbage disposals and converted into compost, some of which will return to Emory to enrich campus flower beds.
Food composting efforts such as these are some of the fruits of a sustainability task force established in health sciences by Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD.
Director of Emoryâ€™s food and nutrition services Lynne Ometer, and her team, began connecting Emory’s hospitals with a waste-to-compost program already under way at Emory University.
As the smallest and most compact of the hospitals, Wesley Woods Geritric Hospital went first, focusing on “preconsumer” waste – scraps generated in food preparation or unusable food items left after serving, and on some “postconsumer” waste – food that has already been served to a patient.
Food service staff were trained to separate what can go into a bin for pickup (food scraps) and what cannot (anything else). In the first month, the hospital diverted 5,000 pounds of food that would have gone into the hospital dumpster and from there to a landfill.
In December, a similar pilot program began at Emory University Hospital with a focus on preconsumer waste. After only one month in operation, 7,000 to 8,000 pounds of waste were diverted from the hospital’s garbage disposal system.
The pilots have been less difficult to implement than Ometer anticipated, but there are challenges, especially at Emory University Hospital, where pickups and deliveries at the hospital’s small loading dock must be scheduled precisely around the clock. It’s still too early to estimate any cost savings, says Ometer, but what is certain is that keeping waste out of landfills or sewers is the right thing to do for the environment.