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Jan. 11, 2008

Small changes in the cafeteria cause big green results

Sometimes little changes can lead to big results; just ask the members of the UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside Nutrition and Food Service Greening Committee. Every year UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside cafeterias use
10 million Styrofoam cups, 2.5 million plastic cups, and 500,000 salad containers. These numbers inspired the Greening Committee to convert their cups, salad containers, straws, soup bowls, deli containers, and lids to corn and paper products that are biodegradable. But that’s just one example of changes that have been implemented over the last eight months.

“The key to becoming a successful green cafeteria is not doing the switch overnight, but testing all of the green products available first and seeing what works best for UPMC,” says Ken Miller, executive director of Nutrition and Food Service. Mr. Miller and the rest of the Nutrition and Food Service staff at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside practice this approach by constantly searching and evaluating areas of the cafeterias that could be more environmentally friendly and then running pilot studies to determine if the changes should go systemwide.

“Switching our cups was not as simple as buying products made from corn,” explains Gayle Musulin, director of Nutrition and Food Service. “We had to test the cups for durability and temperature, and consider the cost. A lot of time and thought is put into these changes, but it’s worth it.”

While cups and salad containers are visible changes, there are products behind the scenes that also can have environmental risks. A major one is grease. The UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside cafeterias now work with a company to convert used grease from the kitchens into biodiesel fuel and dog food — one more small change that can have a large environmental impact.

Ms. Musulin is excited for 2008 because the Greening Committee is ready to launch a search for a new soap and detergent contract, and it’s considering only companies whose products are environmentally safe. The committee is also going to begin researching whether composting preconsumable waste (food not served) is a less expensive and greener solution to the current waste system.

These small changes may not be obvious while eating at one of the cafeterias, but their impact has been nothing short of amazing. UPMC can now be proud of using 10 million “green” cups each year.

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