2009 Environmental Survey: Paler shade of green

FoodService Director's first Environmental Study find out how operators are tackling sustainability.

When Lester compared the data for the first quarter of 2008, before the environmental changes had been made, and the first quarter of 2009, he found that his total disposable purchases were down 62%. His costs, however, have remained the same as before the changes because of the higher price of biodegradable products. Lester has also maintained the goal of keeping non-biodegradable waste down in the cafeteria. For the first quarter of 2009, the department is averaging 50% of cafeteria disposables being biodegradable or recyclable.

“We trained our staff to ask a customer if they are eating in or taking out,” Lester says. “If they are eating in, we highly encourage people to use the china plates and stainless steel cutlery. Ninety percent of my customers are the hospital staff. Since everyone was so into it, it really cut down on the amount of Styrofoam and plastic that we bought.”

Another product Lester reduced the use of was polystyrene cups. He purchased reusable 20-ounce cups that the staff could buy to use for their personal drinks. Lester sells the cups at cost and offers a discount on beverages to customers who use the reusable cup. Lester sold out of the first 1,000 cups and has since purchased an additional 500. Although he says the reusable cups have been successful—foam cup purchases have dropped 35%—he adds that foam cups are still the department’s nemesis in their environmental efforts.

Recycling: Following the success of the cafeteria program, Lester and the green committee started a recycling component. “I know that typically a lot of foodservice directors don’t deal with garbage, but I thought that since I started the program I would just go ahead and get involved in that too,” he says.

The foodservice department is recycling cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic and paper. Lester says that the surprising element of the recycling program has been the interest from other hospital departments, especially the operating room. “They are pretty closed off and we stay out of there because we’re food people, but we found out they go through a tremendous amount of plastic in their procedures,” Lester says. “The thrown away plastic used to be 15,000 pounds a month and that has been reduced to 7,000 pounds a month since we started recycling.” So far the operating department has saved more than $900 a month with its recycling efforts.

According to a report from Waste Management, after three months of recycling, the system had reduced overall waste by more than 11%.

Lester says that another unexpected result of the recycling program was staff involvement. “The funny thing is this has been a really big morale thing,” he says. “The staff can kind of take their minds off of everything in a stressful business throughout the hospital. For example, pharmacy is really excited for some reason. They are really into it.”

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