Food waste is a tremendous challenge for many aged care facilities. Chef managers find they must cook up “buffers” that ensure they don’t run out of residents’ preferred meal choices. These preferences are hard to predict as they change not only based on mood but how residents feel on a given day and the type and texture of food they feel they’re able to handle. As one study determined, choices as minute as the type of dinnerware or color of plate used to serve food can impact impaired how much residents eat.
In addition to the high environmental costs of food waste, there’s the simple fact that aged care facilities also pay an operational cost for excessive food waste. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of options to stop food waste. Perhaps the most effective food waste management solution for aged care facilities is an on-site biodigester.
Biodigesters are machines that break down organic materials through the use of microorganisms and enzymes. Aerobic digesters, which use oxygen in the decomposition process, can be installed directly in a commercial food preparation space. The resulting waste product is decomposed enough to be discharged directly into the wastewater system, requiring no extra waste handling steps. Further, because the biodigester can weigh and report the amount of waste, a facility knows when and how much food waste is being generated.
Aged care facilities are discovering four major benefits to this simple solution.
1. Biodigesters are cleaner and more sanitary
Cleanliness is critical in aged care facilities, where an infection can rapidly move through a community of high-risk individuals. Appropriate hand hygiene and surface disinfection are important in the kitchen to prevent the spread of bacterial infections, as is safe disposal of food waste. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that kitchen staff maintain garbage bins to prevent leakage of food waste and protect against pests.
The installation of an on-site biodigester can help aged care facilities staff ensure that food waste is put where it cannot leak and cannot spread contamination, even as food waste levels fluctuate. This proved particularly attractive to Marco Polo Aged Care in Unanderra, Australia.
“Instead of having to upsize our bins and upsize our removal and rubbish costs, we were able to stay with the same size bins without the overflow problems we were having before,” explained Garry Rickards, maintenance supervisor, Marco Polo Aged Care. “We were able to reduce our rubbish and, in reducing our rubbish, our bins were always closed. That took away infection control issues and vermin control issues.”
Certainly, there’s always more to do. However, any step these operators take to support sustainability in the wine, beer and liquor industries must also balance consumer expectations. For many of these beverage producers, the bottled product is only generating part of the total revenue—the rest increasingly comes from the growing business of wine, brewery and distillery tourism.
2. Biodigesters lower costs
Facilities that are surprised at the upfront cost of a biodigester tend to have overlooked the embedded costs of waste handling. In 2020, the average cost to landfill municipal solid waste in the United States was $53.72 per ton. Along the Pacific Coast, facilities might see average costs as high as $72.03 per ton to haul this waste. Landfill tipping fees have steadily increased each year, and this doesn’t include the cost of trash bags, bins, and the time staff spends hauling garbage and cleaning up the mess afterwards
Aged care facilities also must address the pre-consumer cost of food waste. Organizations that do not have insight into how much food they’re wasting are not able to address the cost of buying too much food.
TJ Manning, chef manager, Marco Polo Aged Care with Catering Industries, notes that food waste is a part of cooking for the 168-bed facility. “[Considering that we offer] two options for [each of] our meals, [means that] we’re always going to have waste,” he says. Yet, the data analytics provided by the facility’s LFC biodigester has provided some insight into just how much food waste the machine is being asked to handle—and this provides a clue into how to stop excessive food waste.
“The report from the food waste is good because if we can monitor how much we’re wasting and try to cut back, then we can see day-to-day what we’re actually using and what we’re throwing out,” Manning says. This type of “garbage can review” is a simple way to start auditing food waste trends.
3. Biodigesters save time
When it comes to the handling of food waste, it’s simply a fact that it takes staff time to tend to the monotonous task. It takes time to clean out bins and make trips to the outside disposal container. Facilities addressing food waste with solutions such as composting have to make these outside trips as well, in addition to turning and spreading compost if they do the composting on site. While it may not seem that much time is wasted on these tasks, it adds up, and time is valuable in meeting the many demands of aged care facilities.
Because biodigesters are located in the kitchen, and require little to no maintenance, kitchen and facilities staff can use the time formerly spent handling waste on more productive tasks. As Manning puts it, “The operation of the LFC biodigester is simple: open the lid, put the food in, shut the lid and walk away. No extra time needed, nothing extra to clean. Just a wipe down at the end of the day, that’s it.”
Offloading monotonous tasks allows chefs and facilities staff to prioritize more value-added work. For example, many aged care facilities are switching dining programs from cafeteria style to self-determined table service, which can demand more time in the planning phase.
4. Biodigesters support building maintenance staff
Waste management and disposal can be a complex task for facilities management staff. It takes time to round up trash from each bin, sort through recycling, compost organic material, and appropriately dispose of any medical waste. There’s the need to educate residents and staff to ensure materials are disposed in the correct places and to create and audit waste management plans to ensure that all regulatory requirements are met. Any step that can reduce this burden for maintenance staff helps prevent critical details from slipping through the cracks.
As Marco Polo Aged Care discovered, biodigesters are simple to operate. “Staff has taken to it quite well,” Rickards says. “Minimal training was required, just to [explain] what they can put in it and what they can’t. It’s very easy to operate, very easy to look after and maintain.”
Given the critical role maintenance staff plays in caring for aged care facility residents, any support they can get will only help them do more for their communities. If you’re ready to make an investment in your maintenance staff and senior care, contact Power Knot today.