By Roxanne Hathway-Baxter and Michael Oreskovich
At Runnymede Healthcare Centre, there is a long-standing commitment to improving environmental sustainability, as was laid out in the 2015 Strategic Plan, Vision 2020/Redefining Possible. In this plan, a pledge was made to implement strategies and technologies that would lessen the hospital’s environmental impact, cut operating costs, and improve the health of the community as a whole.
By using tools like the OHA Green Hospital Scorecard, which tracks a hospital’s environmental efficiencies, and the results from the annual waste audit that Runnymede completes, it was determined that there were some gaps in the waste management process that was occurring at the hospital.
Large amounts of organic waste were being sent to landfills because there was no viable green bin strategy in place to recycle these materials. After the issue was identified, Runnymede decided that it would be a top priority to implement new strategies that would help to efficiently manage its organic waste production and improve its environmental footprint.
The solution came for Runnymede in a new technology called a bio-digester, a fully enclosed machine that can be used as an alternative to traditional composting. The device takes hundreds of pounds of solid food waste, including both raw and cooked leftover foods, from patients’ plates each day and converts it into filtered waste water in a totally chemical-free process.
“It works like a large mechanical stomach,” says Bruce Westwater, Runnymede’s Director of Information Services. “It combines leftover food with water, plastic bio-chips and enzymes to break the waste down. The filtered waste water that is produced can then be safely sent down the drain.”
The whole process, from collection of waste to environmentally-friendly output, takes approximately 24 hours, and the bio-digester constantly monitors the output. Statistics on the usage and the amount of food being digested will always be shown, so the hospital can see exactly how much waste is being recycled.
The environmental benefits provided by the bio-digester are huge and the impact can be seen as soon as six months after installation. Using this device for a year will divert nearly 50 metric tons of solid waste from landfills, and will only need around the same amount of electricity required for seven compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
Cost benefits to Runnymede are evident, as well. “Sending solid food waste to landfills was costing Runnymede over $1000 each year,” says Westwater. “By using the bio-digester this expense will be significantly reduced.” The money that is saved can be reinvested to better serve patients at the hospital, and the community in general.
Additionally, because solid waste can be transferred directly from patients’ plates into the bio-digester, less garbage disposal units will be needed, which will bring down costs over time. Moreover, kitchen staff can focus their attention on other facets of their jobs, rather than having to devote time to taking food waste to outdoor containers.
The many benefits of the bio-digester are apparent, and will make it a perfect addition to the hospital. New technologies like this are enabling hospitals like Runnymede to improve their sustainability, which in turn is beneficial for the environment, as well as more cost-effective for the institutions themselves. By being more sustainable and cost-effective, Runnymede is working towards achieving one of its strategic objectives of lessening its environmental impact, thereby proving its commitment to its patients and the community as a whole.
Roxanne Hathway-Baxter and Michael Oreskovich are Communications Specialists at Runnymede Healthcare Centre.