These days, running a hospital means that not only do you do your best to take care of patients, but also to take care of Mother Earth.
And that’s why staff at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California, decided to take the initiative in reducing their kitchen waste, and turn it into something that’s good for gardens.
Recently installed at CHOMP was a state-of-the-art dehydration machine that turns food scraps into a soil amendment. Tumbled and dried inside the machine, the food waste is reduced by 80 percent – saving on the hospital’s disposal costs as well as reducing its carbon footprint.
The $30,000 eCorect machine can convert up to 250 pounds of waste each day into the powdery brown substance, which is then placed into bags of 10 to 15 pounds. It’s the first device of its kind to be installed on the Monterey Peninsula.
Administrative executive assistant Alicia Molina, who did the research that led the hospital to purchasing the eCorect, said the machine is quiet, easy to use, and compact – and also doesn’t require much in the way of additional time or effort for staff members.
“It’s not traditional composting, but composting is very labor-intensive and takes a lot more space,” said Molina, herself a Monterey Bay Master Gardener who appreciates the fact that the eCorect produces something that’s good for the earth.
CHOMP, like all hospitals, has many mouths to feed during the course of a day – not only patients, but also employees, volunteers and visitors. As much as 3 tons of food waste is generated by the hospital each month, according to director of environmental services Raul Lopez.
Food waste is also troublesome because it’s heavy and has the potential to attract pests, so handling it correctly and in a timely fashion is imperative.
The eCorect machine turned out to be the perfect solution to the messy problem.
There is a little more effort required on the part of kitchen staff, said Joe Abluton, supervisor of nutrition services. Employees must scrape food waste into five-gallon buckets, and then dump them into the machine, which converts the material over an 18-hour cycle.
Heat and a paddle-like mechanism inside the machine dehydrate and break down the food waste to produce the end result. Nothing needs to be added to make the process work – no additives or enzymes – and most importantly, no water, something that’s important on the water-strapped Monterey Peninsula.
Ultimately, the material is reduced by 80 percent, so that daily 250 pounds of waste becomes 30 pounds of the dry soil amendment, which if stored in a dry, cool place, keeps indefinitely.
The substance is approved by the FDA as a soil amendment, and because it’s heated thoroughly in processing, does not contain pathogens or germs, according to Omar Numair, account manager of FRG Waste Resources of Napa.
FRG Waste Resources is the distributor for the eCorect and will also provide annual maintenance, Numair said.
What the hospital plans to do with this amendment is also innovative. In addition to being used to improve the soil on the 22-acre hospital grounds, the bagged amendment will be made available in the near future to hospital employees and volunteers for a small donation.
Money collected in this way will be diverted to a good cause.
“We call the project Heart and Soil because we plan to use it in part to raise money for the Tyler Heart Institute, which encompasses our full range of cardiac services,” said Brenda Moore, assistant director of communication and marketing for CHOMP.
Right now, Molina and a few other gardeners are testing the soil amendment and finding out how best to use it before making it available. Molina is also having the mixture analyzed to see exactly what its nutritive qualities are.
Molina points out that this is the just the latest environmental advance to be put into practice at the hospital. CHOMP first put a recycling program into effect in the 1980s, she said.
“Today, we’re trying to be innovative again,” she said.
Lopez notes that in the long run, the machine will pay for itself, through reduced disposal costs. But more than that, CHOMP will reduce its carbon footprint as well as the methane generated from such waste.
Molina said her inspiration for finding a solution to the food waste problem was CHOMP president/CEO Dr. Steven Packer, who spoke to hospital’s leadership council on Earth Day 2008 about the need to care not just for patients, but also for the planet.
“We have to have equal respect for both,” she said.
Personal interviews with Brenda Moore, Alicia Molina, Omar Numair, and Raul Lopez, November 2009