About 1.3 million tons of food are lost or wasted each year worldwide. One of these food waste streams, although not the largest, is the healthcare system.
When discussing the waste produced within the healthcare system, food waste is often not the topic of discussion, although most other waste streams already receive adequate attention.
The majority of food waste in hospitals is disposed of through sink disposal processes, making it difficult to quantify or measure.
Hospitals represent the majority of waste created in the healthcare system; generating 71% of the total waste produced in industry, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Of this waste, the study is comprised of 10-15% food waste, demonstrating a lower rate than the US total (which accounts for approximately 31% of the total food supply wasted each year). However, the amount of wasted food remains significant and deserves to be questioned.
A study titled “Hospital food waste: reducing waste and costs for our healthcare system and our environmentdigs deeper into the problem and potential solutions.
Researched and written by Deborah A. Saber (Ph.D., RN, CCRN-K), Roya Aziza (Ph.D.), Stacia Dreyer (Ph.D.), Deborah Sanford (MBA, MSN, RN), and Hannah Nadeau (BSN, RN), the report spearheads the idea that nurse leaders could play a role in the policy changes needed to reduce the waste created in the healthcare system.
The report “underscores the need for nurse leaders to inform policy makers of changes that could positively impact the environment while reducing waste stream and hospital expenditures,” the summary states.
Research shows that a hospital serving 6,640 patient meals per week can produce up to 48,000 pounds. of food per year. This equates to 24 tonnes of wasted organic matter. These 24 tonnes of food waste are the direct result of losses during preparation and food prepared and not consumed or refused by patients.
Although this is not always preventable, this report suggests that much of it can be avoided with properly implemented measures.
“A related study reported that only 28% of meals ordered were fully consumed and 29% were less than half consumed. Thirty-nine percent of food served to patients returned to the kitchen as food waste,” the researchers state.
Similar rates are seen in non-solid food waste such as infant formula with studies indicating that “61% of prepared infant formula and 18% to 62% of enteral formula may be wasted”.
This food waste is not only a burden on the environment and unnecessary waste to be dealt with by landfills, but also a blow to budgets set by hospitals, so it is beneficial for all parties to inspect this issue. deeper.
Looking at the interviews conducted by the researchers, they found that budgeting was the main incentive for hospitals to think strategically about their food waste.
“Participants consistently indicated that budget considerations drove food waste mitigation practices,” the study reports.
Drawing on the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy framework, the study begins to outline solutions to the problem by suggesting more creative use of foods that are “at risk” of spoilage.
During the preparation phase, respondents working in some hospitals noted that leftover products and foods nearing their expiry date were thrown away, while others from different hospitals described innovative ways of Avoid getting rid of these foods.
The study gives the following examples: “For example, overripe strawberries were used to make strawberry shortcake and excess asparagus was blanched and frozen.”
For food not consumed by patients, hospitals handled the waste in different ways, although one method was much more common.
Of the seven hospitals surveyed, five disposed of food waste in sinks, one used a food waste bin collected by a composting company, and the final bag of food waste to be incinerated by a third-party contractor.
It should be noted that in some cases, returned food has not been subjected to the same method of disposal as the majority due to isolation and contagion issues.
For hospitals that reported disposal systems other than composting, some reported barriers to system change.
“Participants reported barriers to composting, including cost, procedural considerations (e.g., moving heavy bins filled with food waste), and hiring and training staff to manage the food waste process,” notes the study.
In order to achieve a better and more profitable way to waste food, the report begins to explain how nurse leaders can create impact externally.
“Nurse leaders are uniquely positioned to develop and implement policies to improve patient health while practicing sustainability efforts,” he says.
The report suggests using leading nurses to implement food waste donation programs, pointing to nurses as people willing to support health for all.
“One of the goals could include expanded and scaled-up food donation programs for food-insecure populations, which would aim to promote active and healthy living for this highly vulnerable group,” the study says.
While many useful strategies can be implemented within hospitals, not all changes can be made internally.
In order to overcome some of the aforementioned obstacles – and other unnamed challenges – policy change is needed.
“Outside of health care settings, nurse leaders can contribute to policy change that will encourage donation, ease barriers to food donation, and protect hospitals from litigation,” the study notes.
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