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When less is more!

Compact dehydration system turns food waste into fertilizer

On Earth Day 2008, Dr. Steven Packer, Community Hospital’s president and CEO, talked to management team members about the importance of caring for patients and the planet. When Alicia Molina heard about it, the proverbial light bulb went on.

Alicia MolinaAlicia Molina, executive assistant

Molina, a Monterey Bay Area master gardener, began to ponder what might be done to minimize the hospital food waste that ends up in a landfill — more than 500 pounds a day.

Molina, an executive assistant at Community Hospital, collaborated with co-workers Sal Almanza and Vim Sharma of Environmental Services and Joe Abluton and Paul Ruiz from Nutrition Services. They did extensive research and settled on a solution: the eCorect™ system. The easy-to-use dehydrator efficiently converts food waste and biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils into a soil amendment, cutting the food waste going to the landfill by about half.

The idea married Molina’s interests in gardening and ecology, and its successful application won the grand prize in a special environmental version of the Community Hospital Improvement Plan (CHIP) program, which encourages and rewards employee suggestions.

Molina’s research took her down numerous potential paths, but most had significant drawbacks: They required a lot of staff time. They were too dependent on an outside vendor. They took up too much space.

Then Molina and her colleagues landed on the eCorect dehydrator, a product of Somat® Company, distributed by FRG Waste Resources, Inc., of Napa Valley.

“After looking at other more-complicated systems,” says Molina, “we found the eCorect dehydrator, which has a very small footprint, about the size of a modest household freezer. Essentially, we dump in unsorted food scraps frm the kitchen, hit a button, and 18 hours later we have a soil amendment product that will become fertilizer.” 

Did you know?

Ideas submitted to CHiP, the Community Hospital improvement Plan, have saved almost $15 million since it started in 1991. Suggestions have improved patient care, safety, ef?ciency, communication, and environmental protection.

The current eCorect product can’t be transferred directly from the dehydrator to the garden. But Molina, with her master gardener skills, is working on finding the right formula to make the amendment as effective as it can be. Ultimately, the plan is that some will be used on the hospital grounds and the rest will be available, for a small donation, for employees and volunteers to take home in 10-pound bags for use in their home gardens.

“I really knew very little about composting, beyond the basics,” Molina says. “But I have been taking home the dehydrated waste and producing some good compost within two weeks’ time. This is way ahead of most compost processes.”

The soil amendment project has been named “Heart and Soil,” and any proceeds it generates will be plowed back into hospital services — bringing full circle the goals of caring for patients and the planet.

“This project is truly green. It reduces waste and results in a product that will enrich the landscape,” says Tim Nylen, a vice president of Community Hospital who was the executive sponsor of the project. “We were pleased to make this our latest environmental initiative.”

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