Composting efforts ramp up at Michigan Medicine

September 9, 2020  //  FOUND IN: News

In December 2019, Patient Food and Nutrition Services (PFANS) began the unique process of composting leftover food scraps from patient rooms. This process of collecting “post-consumer compost” from patient trays is the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.

U-M established a goal in 2011 to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent below the 2006 baseline by 2025. Food waste makes up about 10 to 15 percent of a hospital’s solid waste production every day.

“PFANS is dedicated to supporting U-M’s sustainability goals,” said Tina Johnson, a PFANS food service manager. “Our department is reducing the amount of food waste that’s going into the landfills from patient trays, food prep waste and expired and discarded products. We recognized that composting is good for the environment and the reputation of being the leaders and best here at U-M.”

What is composting? 

Composting is a form of waste disposal where organic waste decomposes under oxygen-rich conditions. Material such as food scraps, yard waste and some certified tableware can be composted.

When the material decomposes through natural or an industrial composting system, it turns into a dark, crumbly and earthy-smelling material that is used to enrich soil and help plants grow.

Building on previous efforts

Composting is not new to the U-M Health System. In fact, patient food kitchens began “pre-consumer” composting, collecting meal preparation food scraps, in University Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s & Voigtlander Women’s hospitals (C&W) in 2016. A year ago, the program expanded pre-consumer composting efforts to their vendor-operated cafeterias located within University Hospital (UH), North Ingalls and the Kellogg Eye Center buildings.

In Fall 2019, dietetic interns participating worked with ware wash managers to complete a pilot process for post-consumer composting. They analyzed workflow, space, ergonomics and options for composting bins. After their analysis was complete, the interns led the ware wash staff in sorting food waste into composting bins.

“We have several composting bins throughout the prep areas in UH/CW kitchens for pre-consumer and two composting bins in the wear wash area for post-consumer composting,” said Johnson. “Staff in prep areas will place food waste from fruit and vegetable peelings, cooked meat scraps, food from the hot line that is being discarded due to quality issues and expired food waste into a lined composting bin. Food waste coming from patient trays are scraped into a composting bin instead of the food grinder in our ware wash area.”

“Composting is a lot easier than we originally thought.” Johnson said. “It’s a simple change to daily work processes and procedures. With a slight adjustment to job routines and workspaces, we can be successful at composting. The employees feel that they are making a positive impact on the community and the world as a whole.”   

Interested in Sustainability? Take the Planet Blue Ambassador Training or email for more information.