Hackensack Meridian Health: Leading the Way on Food Waste Sustainability

March 6, 2020

Today’s modern green economy is being led by sustainability in energy, power, and other empirical methods at preserving our planet for generations to come. A key issue faced daily is the management of food waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2017 alone 41 million tons of food waste was generated. Of that waste, only 6.3 percent was diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. The harsh reality is that society throws away more food material that ends up in landfills and incinerators than any other single material found in garbage waste.

As the trash piles up, there is an untapped potential for homes and businesses to mitigate and solve the food waste problem. That is where Hackensack Meridian Health has joined in.

In 2012, Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the EPA to create a comprehensive waste reduction program. The MoU’s goal was to achieve and surpass a 35 percent recycling rate on campus, as well as a volume reduction in overall waste.

In 2019, Hackensack University Medical Center was able to divert more than 122,900 pounds of food waste while also working to reduce the number of single use plastics.

While leading efforts to divert food waste from landfills and incinerators, Hackensack University Medical Center took important steps to reduce its carbon footprint by taking a close look at the food served. The Food Service team at Hackensack University Medical Center replaced many of the beef entrées and increased plant-based entrée options. Many of the soups changed to vegetarian, which allows for greater utilization of leftover vegetables in soups and stocks.

“As health care providers, we are committed to creating healthier communities. I am proud that Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals are working hard to reduce food waste. By reducing our impact on the environment, we are setting an example along with other organizations that food waste reduction is the right thing to do,” said Kyle Tafuri, director of Sustainability, Hackensack Meridian Health.

On Stop Food Waste Day in 2019, Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center held a Zero Waste Dinner to raise awareness of the ongoing efforts in reducing waste created by each meal. The Morrison Hackensack Meridian Health culinary team provided a six-course, Zero Waste meal for more than 30 board members and administrators. As part of the meal, chefs served each course bringing kitchen pots directly to each table. The chefs also avoided using plastic and disposable utensils in creative ways, such as the skin from baked avocados as a serving dish. The chefs also made sure to utilize every part of their meal by serving the flesh of the avocado for the main course and even using the core of the vegetable as a garnish.

Hackensack Meridian Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy took the initiative in late 2019 to launch the WasteWatch by LeanPath tool with food partner Sodexo. As a part of a broader initiative of reducing food waste, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy highlighted suggestions for using normally discarded food items and how to include them as part of a meal.

As members of the community, it is in the best interest of organizations like Hackensack Meridian Health to begin practicing food waste sustainability programs from both an environmental and economic perspective. While it is obvious the positive impacts these programs have in protecting and enriching our environment, organizations see positive benefits economically through cost savings and lower spending. Organizations who enact food waste sustainability programs will pay less in trash pickup due to reduction in waste, as well as wasting and spending less on energy and labor costs associated with throwing away food.