University of Iowa Hospitals tackle waste issue

The foodservice department has reduced food waste, increased food donations and implemented a composting program.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

When a media report slamming the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for the amount of pre-consumer food waste it generates came out in late 2012, Food and Nutrition Services Director Joan Dolezal knew she couldn’t ignore it. In response, Dolezal and her department not only attacked the problem, they also went beyond the complaints in the report to address other waste issues such as polystyrene usage.

The results have been impressive. In a little more than a year, Dolezal says, the department has reduced the amount of pre-consumer waste generated by nearly half, to about 7%. The 2012 report cited the healthcare system for wasting about 12% of the food it prepares for retail sales. Waste on the patient food side was not measured in the report.

In addition, the department has done away with polystyrene packaging in favor of biodegradable items, all of which can be composted. Dolezal also began a composting program that in one year has diverted 77 tons of waste from the landfill.

Finally, the department worked with the dining services department at the University of Iowa to partner with Table To Table, a local organization that distributes food to food banks and crisis centers. That effort has resulted in a threefold increase in the amount of food donated from the healthcare system—more than 2,300 pounds of food in 2013.

“The report really made us stop and take a look at our procedures,” Dolezal says. “We created a focused initiative to reduce our waste. We put together a team within our department and also worked with the university’s sustainability office to come up with a plan.”

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