In January of 2010 Styrofoam was eliminated from our health system. Why? The main ingredient of Styrofoam is Polystyrene, which is a petroleum based plastic. Already this makes Styrofoam non sustainable because it requires petroleum. Styrofoam is also not biodegradable which means it does not break down, but simply accumulates over time. It is also one of the main components of marine debris because it floats on top of the water. There are also claims that Styrofoam can be dangerous towards human health if exposed to it for too long. Despite all of the negatives, Styrofoam is popular for food and beverage service because it is cheap, lightweight, insulates well and is non-absorbent. We at Gundersen recognized that Styrofoam has more negatives than positives, so we decided to completely eliminate it from food service. We needed to find an alternative to Styrofoam carryout containers, so we started with reusable containers in our cafeterias. When they were no longer usable they could be recycled. This became the only option in the cafeteria. However, we soon came to realize that this option did not suit everyone’s interests so we came up with a second alternative that would still be more environmentally friendly than Styrofoam. The alternative was and still is sugar cane fiber based containers. Why Sugar cane based? Sugar cane based paper or containers are made up of the fiber (otherwise known as Bagasse) that remains after the sugar cane stalks are crushed for their juices. Bagasse is sustainable because it is biodegradable, contains no petroleum, and requires minimal production. Today, the sugar cane based containers are served in our cafeteria along with the reusable containers. Customers may choose which container they would like to use. To eliminate health concerns, reusable containers must be returned to the cafeteria where they are thoroughly washed and sanitized.
By eliminating Styrofoam and switching to reusable containers we have an estimated annual savings of over $7500 and about a 12% decrease in our consumption of disposable items. As we progress with more ideas we hope to see more savings in the future. At Gundersen we believe that there is always room to improve and grow. Interested in learning about other projects related to renewable energy and sustainability accomplished at Gundersen? Check out our Envision Website: http://www.gundersenenvision.org/?id=7283&sid=49