Food Services Forges Path Towards Sustainability

This March, Food Services introduced compostable containers.

Tom Wright, director, Food Services says, “When the ultimate goal is zero waste you need to constantly evaluate your current sustainability practices and think of ways to improve.”

This is the mental framework that guides our organizational sustainability practices as a whole and a driving force behind the recent and future sustainability efforts by our Food Services team. The work starts before products even enter our buildings.

“We try to use local products and vendors whenever possible to support our local businesses and limit greenhouse emissions due to transport. We spend a lot of time making sure we limit waste by making smart, efficient and organized purchasing decisions, all the while working through unforeseeable supply chain issues,” said Wright. “It’s a good start. The organization’s commitment to sustainability has allowed us to analyze every aspect of Food Services, to discover ways we can eliminate waste.”

Nicole Rogowski, project manager, Organizational Support Services, uses the evolution of our plate ware and containers as an example.

“Until last May, we used several foam products in our retail cafeterias, including black foam plates,” she says. “They were inexpensive and insulated, but terrible for the environment. Polystyrene takes a long time to break down, so it’s not biodegradable or recyclable. Our short-term goal was to eliminate Styrofoam from our retail cafeterias as soon as possible.”

For the past 10 months, Food Services has been using an eco-friendlier paperboard one box.

“We were eager to transition away from Styrofoam products, and the one box was readily available at the volume required to meet our needs. Even though it wasn’t recyclable, it was a step in the right direction. Still, we knew we had to do better.”

In March of this year, Food Services transitioned to a compostable clam shell. Rather than go through the recycling process, these containers can be broken down into usable compost. Changing to compostable utensils is the next step towards the future of sustainability within Food Services.

“We’re ensuring that all of the plate ware and utensils we bring in house will be compostable and able to operate with an aerobic bio-digester,” said Rogowski.

How It Works

An aerobic bio-digester takes organic waste and compostable materials and breaks the volume down by up to 80 percent. The process takes 24 hours, a fraction of the time it takes for traditional composting. The byproduct is a nutrient-rich soil amendment, similar to a peat moss, which could potentially be used on our grounds, donated to the community, or picked up.

“We’re still working with designers, but we are confident that this piece of equipment will be incorporated into our system sometime within the next two years, right around the time the new Location B cafe opens,” said Rogowski.

The team envisions very few accessible trash cans in the Location B café, with the idea that all garbage comes back through the tray area to be fed into the aerobic bio-digester.

“It’s a true, full-circle program,” said Wright. “And this works in conjunction with our belief that sustainability also means using locally made products when possible. So, we’re working with a sugarcane company in Milford to make our compostable packaging.”

The Food Service team is also investigating options for cups that are reusable, work well for hot and cold liquids, and adhere to Infection Control guidelines. And they’re working with Practice Greenhealth, an organization that specializes in sustainable environmental solutions for hospitals and healthcare systems, to limit the impact of our ecological footprint even further. Practice Greenhealth will measure our overall impact on greenhouse gas emissions by studying data from our purchasing decisions.

“Being able to consistently and accurately assess our environmental impact will only help us become better at reducing our footprint and helping us achieve our sustainability goals,” said Ron Moore, senior consultant, Sustainability.

The push towards a sustainable future within Food Services is part of our mission to provide quality service to our families and employees, while also being good stewards of the environment.

Said Wright, “We are trying to make impactful changes that continue to meet our customers’ needs. We want to do our part in supporting the overall sustainability program of our organization.”

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