From Homes to Hospitals; Food Waste is Feeding Plants

It started with a broken garbage disposal in my home.  Three months later, with the help of resourceful neighbors and a new fence across the street, I had my very own backyard compost pile.  The City offers classes, free kits and resources for composting.  I'm making good on my New Year's resolution to throw away less, and recycle more.  But has "big business" rallied to the cause?

Happily, some have.  St. Cloud Hospital in Minneapolis has installed a system to grind and dehydrate its food waste.  It's the first system of its kind in Minnesota and one of the few in the country.  Food pulpers had been more commonly used in restaurants, hospitals and schools, but that process still ends up with mush down the drain or in the landfill.  

In this new pulper-dehydrator system, the scraped food from the dishes is mixed with water into a trough.  It's then tranported into a pulper which grinds it up, then into an extractor which removes the water.  Next is the dehydrator, which is an overnight process that cooks the waste into a dry, powdery and odorless substance.  From here, the waste can be either composted or worked directly into the soi.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that more food waste was generated than any other material except paper.  Of this, less than 3% was recycled.

According to Jonathan Bloom, author of the book, American Wasteland:How America Throws way Nearly Half of its Food (And What We Can Do About It, " It's not only an ethical concern and a waste of resources," he said," but also an environmental problem."

Minnesota is not alone in dehydrating food waste.  Three years ago the University of Connecticut installed a food pulper and dehydrator in one dining hall, and has since purchased two more units.  These newer units skip the pulping stage, save water, and go directly to the dehydrating process.

In 2008, Columbus Regional Hospital in southeast Indiana added a dehydrator after a flood required the hospital to rebuild their kitchen facilities.  Their end product still goes to the landfill, but is reduced by 83% in weight and 95% in volume.

And here in Austin, at the end of February, Dell Children's Hospital reported 38 tons of kitchen waste had been composted.


joanbrook's picture
Submitted by joanbrook on Sun, 10/28/2012 - 8:22pm


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Thanks for adding this to the list of composting options. I knew nothing about it. Of course we wouldn't landfill the dehydrated stuff here in Austin but dehydrating stuff might enable more places to get it done while addressing odor issues, as well as reducing transportation labor and fuel costs.