BioCycle Magazine

Hospital chain on board with food scraps diversion

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The City of San Diego, California offers a commercial food scraps composting program. Food waste is collected from commercial generators by the city’s franchised haulers, and composted at the Miramar Greenery, the city’s composting facility. To expand the diversion program to large generators, city staff presented the program to a working group of local hospitals at the group’s quarterly meeting in April 2010. In March 2012, one of the biggest hospital chains in San Diego, Sharp Health Care, joined the program, bringing on two of its three hospitals in the city: Sharp Memorial Hospital, a 315,000-square-foot facility with 417 maintained beds, and Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, which has 212 maintained beds, and delivers more than 8,600 babies each year (the most in California).

The implementation process was very painstaking, taking almost two years from the first meeting to the first food waste load arriving at the Greenery. Since Sharp Health Care was the first hospital to implement a food scraps composting program in the region, there were a lot of uncertainties and issues to be addressed. It was also a new experience for city staff, which had to be educated on the hospitals’ requirements. For example, if refuse structures, compactors and outdoor containers have any direct contact with the building, they could be considered an add on or attachment to the building structure. In turn, an inspection and approval would be needed by the State of California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSPOD), which could possibly add months to the project. Although the process was long, it was very enlightening for both city and Sharp staff.

The two hospitals share one central kitchen managed by Sodexo, which serves over 629 beds plus two cafeterias for staff and visitors. The initial step was to estimate food waste generation, including preconsumer, e.g., kitchen prep and spoilage, and postconsumer scraps captured by kitchen staff from patient rooms and cafeteria trays (cafeteria workers scrape the plates). To avoid the cost of a waste characterization study for the hospital, the evaluation was done by counting the number and size of trash bags generated in the kitchen per day. Food waste was determined to be about 80 percent of the weight — approximately 7,000 lbs — since there were still recyclables in the trash bags. Based on that approximation, an estimate was calculated for weekly food waste generation and appropriate service level for the hospital.

The second step was to bring the hospital into full compliance with San Diego’s mandatory recycling ordinance. As part of the city’s requirements for participation in the food scraps composting program, all participants must comply fully with the ordinance, meaning recycling all paper, cardboard, metal, plastic and glass containers, and rigid plastics. The hospital, although already doing a good job with its commodities recycling program, had to ramp up the convenience of the recycling containers and proper signage throughout the hospitals. This process took some time as new containers had to be purchased and signs created.

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