When kitchen employees at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton cut and prepare food, they place the scraps into a special container used for composting at Riverview Gardens, an urban farm in downtown Appleton.
The move saves 30 tons of food annually from going into local landfills, said Maggie Hintz-Polzin, RN, ThedaCare sustainability coordinator. Riverview uses the composted food matter as fertilizer to grow a variety of crops sold through its community supported agriculture (CSA) organization, to the public at a seasonal store downtown, and to local restaurants and businesses.
“Our waste feeds others since it helps grow food for others,” she said. “This program fits well with ThedaCare’s sustainability initiatives.”
The idea to use pre-consumer food waste for composting came from hospital cafeteria employees, Hintz-Polzin said. She was meeting with employees and talking about ways ThedaCare could be more sustainable when Danielle Pelligrini, a member of the green team at the Appleton hospital, came up with the composting idea. Hintz-Polzin then reached out to Riverview Gardens, a non-profit organization that teaches job skills to its employees while also growing crops.
“They were eager to take on our scraps and use it in their composting,” she said. “The compost is used on the crops they grow. It’s a great cycle that focuses on cradle-to-cradle sustainability thinking in which waste from one system becomes food for another.”
When food waste goes to landfills, it has a hard time breaking down, which produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Hintz-Polzin said. Methane in the atmosphere causes climate change, contributing to health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, she said.
“ThedaCare’s mission is to improve the health of our communities and what better way can we improve our community health than combating climate change?” Hintz-Polzin said.
Hintz-Polzin said the next step is collecting pre-consumer food waste from the Peabody/Heritage campus as well as post-consumer waste and moving to compostable dinnerware to eliminate Styrofoam. “We would eventually like to expand this to other hospital sites, but we need to find local partners willing to take the waste for their composting need,” she said.
For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. The ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton opened in February. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.