For Holly Dickinson and Patricia Ng, both registered dieticians with the Eating Disorders Program, mealtime is critical for patient care, but it came with a lot of unwanted waste, especially the tons and tons of Styrofoam™ cups. As health care professionals and green team members, they saw an opportunity to fix it.

They worked together with Lilly Kerto, admin assistant and fellow green teamer, to bring in the good cups. Lilly keeps a close eye on pricing to order compostable cups, as they go through about 4,500 cups a year, just in the day program alone!

So we had good stuff coming in, but what about the other end? We met with Ricky Lima, Environmental Services Supervisor, to make sure the cups went out the right way. He supplied them with compost bins and looped in the unit’s cleaner, Goretti Costa, to manage the changes.

Technically, because of the nature of the department, there is not supposed to be any food waste at the end of a meal or snack. The most important item in their specific green bin is the cup. Our Energy & Environment team made them a custom cup compost sign, then the green team put up all waste stream signs on both the 7th and 8th floor. Aideen is also no stranger to fixing signage, having done so in other areas in Psychiatry.

Good bins, good signs and handy notes attached

The last piece of the puzzle? Making sure staff and patients alike use the bins properly. Holly and Paula invited me to do a quick inservice at their staff meeting, and it was such an engage group! Then they regularly coach patients on the how-to’s.

“Patients have reacted really positively to this and often say ‘I’m so happy we’re doing this’, though they need a few reminders on how to sort properly.” Paula noted.

“There is so much waste in hospitals that we can’t do anything about This feels like one area we can make a change that’s doable”, Holly added.

Lilly, who not only orders the compostable cups, but also saves cardboard boxes for reuse in our ice pack recycling program, was also pleased with the changes.

“Feedback has been very positive from the patients, and the staff. It is a very positive thing and I’m very excited that UHN is going this way to help stop Global Warming.” Lilly noted.

But what’s so wrong with Styrofoam? How the cups stack up:

The biggest problem with Styrofoam is the World Health Organization has found it to be a “probable carcinogen” as of 2018 … yikes! Styrofoam is also not so great for the environment, often breaking up and landing in waterways and urban environments. Very few recycling companies will take it, including the one that services UHN. As we chatted about in our wish-cycling blog, recyclability is based on finding a buyer to use a material to make new things. No one is biting. Even the City of Toronto, which currently takes Styrofoam in recycling, is considering banning it entirely.

That left paper cups, but the usual ones you find in most coffee shops are lined with plastic and are also not recyclable … the main reason we keep banging on about lugging-a-mug, plus you get a sweet discount :). There is currently one good option in single-use, and that is compostable cups which are made of paper and a compostable lining.

Contagious (but in a good way)

The work of the green team helped fuel the beginning of a move away from Styrofoam across all of University Health Network! I worked with Kayla Cote from purchasing and Tim Reid from Materials Management to get compostable options into our warehouse and available for easy internal ordering (big shout-outs to both Kayla and Tim). The compostable cups are a bit more expensive than Styrofoam, so we coupled the idea with encouraging staff to bring reusable mugs, saving single-use for patients and reducing cups overall.

After the notice went out on Monday, Tim reported a massive demand for the new compostable cups! So much so, that the warehouse is likely to move to 100% compostable. This is stacking up nicely, and it all started with a green team.