A few words to introduce myself… I’m Christine and I am a French student. I have been in Canada for 10 months now for my studies at Sciences Po Rennes, a five years program in Political Sciences with a specialization in sustainable development and renewable energies. For our Bachelor Degree, we have to make an internship abroad, in any field, any country and any culture. I first chose a non-profit organization in sustainable health care based in Montreal, Synergie Sante Environnement, with Jerome Ribesse. They work at encouraging and helping health care facilities at reducing their carbon footprint. I didn’t know anything about sustainable health care, or health care in general! That’s why I chose this field actually. Then I went to Toronto to complete my Canadian experience in sustainable health care by interning with the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care with directed by Linda Varangu. That’s how I met the UHN Green Team. I’ve been lucky to work for 10 weeks in the Energy and Environment Department, thanks to Kady Cowan.

christine - travel
Paris to Montreal to Toronto

Once landed on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I discovered a completely foreign sector with many innovative projects. I’d like bring to light one in particular: the food dehydrator.Every day, thousands of kilos of food are thrown into the garbage in health care facilities. A kitchen waste audit at the Cornwall Community Hospital revealed approximately 175 lbs of waste being generated and thrown into garbage bins each day; approximately 75% of which was food waste. This contributes to higher than necessary landfill charges, foul odours, and leachate (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the bits) emanating from the kitchen dumpster.

Food Waste. image credit bbotpledge.ca/just-eat-it-a-food-waste-story
Food Waste. image credit bbotpledge.ca/just-eat-it-a-food-waste-story

All the more, if organics are not treated and directly thrown to landfill they reject exhaust fumes like biogas and leachate, which also pollutes groundwater. Some health care facilities generate their own compost or store this waste until collection when it is shipped to an offsite compost processor. This often works well, but may occasionally have a downside like smells, (vermin and, parasites). That’s why it has been essential to find a cleaner, greener, more effective and efficient solution.

In the Cornwall Community Hospital, in Ontario, the solution found was to install a multi-stage heating and dehydration unit. This unit reduces the waste lead by as much as 90%, resulting in a sterile bio-mass suitable for use as a soil amendment for personal or institutional gardens. Water extracted by the process drains into the sewer system. Based upon local waste hauling fees, the hospital estimates it will save approximately $5, 550 per year. That means the dehydrator will pay for itself within four years and the hospital’s yearly waste to landfill will drop by approximately 30+ metric tonnes.

Food Dehydrator - Cornwall
Food Dehydrator – Cornwall

According to Alan Greig, Vice President of Support Services, “this will increase once we are finished our major construction and all services are brought onto one site in the third quarter of 2014. At that time, our projections will be exceeded and we will be significantly reducing our ecological footprint and our organic waste management expense.”

When I started working with SSE, they quickly involved me in the same kind of project in the health care facility Nord de la Lanaudiere at Joliette, Quebec. When we went to visit the Hospital of Cornwall, I saw the powder going out from the dehydrator. Then, they started trialing the dyhydrator at the hospital of Joliette for 3 months, to have enough time to measure the pros and cons, and analyze the powder and water.

Some Cegep students of the Cegep of Joliette were also working on the project. The hospital staff were relieved to not having to bear the awful smell of organics anymore…. Now, they are waiting for the hospital administration to sign off on it and the ministry of agriculture to allow them to give the powder as a fertilizer to local farmers.

Compost cycle, with food dehydrator for processing instead of compost heap
Compost cycle, with food dehydrator for processing instead of compost heap

During this second internship, I created a website page for the Coalition about waste management. I delved into the different categories of waste in health care facilities, and this method to treat organic waste is probably one of the best. Imagine a scenario where hospitals already have their own garden, on the roof for example, they could have their own fertilizer for free! And if the food in the facility is  local and organic, it would be an organic fertilizer too!

The time has come for me to return home to finish my studies, my Master Degree in Renewable Energies Management. I can say this for sure: this year abroad has not only given me excellent work experience and a healthy dose of Canadian culture, it has also given me a glimmer of hope about a new economical positive circle: sustainable development.

Example in France in a heath care facility in Paris
Best practices of organic waste treatment