Today, the U.S. faces major challenges to the health of our population
and the health of our planet. For example, about half of all adults in
the U.S. have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, such as obesity,
heart disease or diabetes. Medical experts say a healthy lifestyle, including
eating a variety of healthful foods with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables,
can help prevent or slow down the progression of chronic disease.
And yet, every year in the U.S., we waste nearly one-third of the overall
food supply, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Such
a huge amount of wasted food has a major impact on food security and resource
conservation. It is also the source of 18 percent of all environmentally
harmful methane emissions coming from U.S. landfills.
A large percentage of the food waste stream in the U.S. is fruits and vegetables
– just what we should be eating more of to prevent chronic disease.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports more than
one-third of all the vegetables and fruits purchased by Americans in 2010
This is the third in a series of articles on recent advances in U.S. efforts
to take a more proactive, preventive approach to improving and protecting
the health of our citizens and our environment. We’ll also talk
about what you can do at home, and how Washington Hospital works every
day to support a healthier community and contribute to a cleaner, greener planet.
A triple win
“You can’t separate healthy eating from reducing waste and
protecting the environment,” said Kimberlee Alvari, registered dietitian
and director of Food and Nutrition Clinical Services at Washington Hospital.
“Reducing wasted food is a triple win. It's good for our health,
our economy and our planet.”
Recently, the U.S. government announced a new initiative designed to increase
the sustainability of our food stream and protect the environment by reducing
food waste across the country. Sponsored by the EPA and USDA, it is the
first-ever National Food Reduction Goal calling for a 50 percent decline
in food waste by the year 2030. Reaching this goal will help conserve
natural resources and protect our planet from climate change.
The EPA’s Net Zero Initiative works with local communities to evaluate
ways of reducing the amount of food waste being sent to landfills. The
program uses the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to guide and prioritize
actions that divert food waste from landfills.
Where the patient comes first
“At Washington Hospital, the patient comes first, so we focus on
nourishing, healing and providing exceptional care,” explained Alvari.
“And, as one of the largest businesses in this community and a health
care leader, we follow our conscience in providing healthy, sustainable
food to our patients, visitors and staff. At the same time, we consider
how our actions are affecting the environment.” The Hospital uses
various strategies to procure the healthiest, tastiest produce from vendors
at the best possible price. It develops relationships with local food
sources, keeping tabs on all aspects of the supply chain from the farm
to the plate. Using its own and the purchasing power of other collaborating
Bay Area hospitals, Washington Hospital works with growers to create a
supply chain that is sustainable and controls costs.
“We use technology to create a flexible menu plan that can be easily
adjusted based on the season and other factors that influence the cost
and availability of the foods we need,” Alvari added.
The Hospital also has a Green Team made up of employees from various departments.
The group spearheads a wide range of projects that conserve resources,
reduce waste, and encourage reuse and recycling in its own facility and
throughout the community.
Washington Hospital is a member of the Med-Ed Collaborative of Healthcare
Without Harm, an international coalition of hospitals and health care
systems that promote the health of people and the environment. In recognition
for its mission of sustainability, the Hospital recently won the Practice
Greenhealth “Partner for Change” award for the fifth consecutive year.
What you can do
The EPA reports that in 2013, Americans disposed of more than 35 million
tons of food waste, with about 95 percent ending up in landfills or combustion
facilities. You and your family can do things at home to help support
a greener, cleaner environment while also contributing to your own healthy
- Become more mindful of how your actions support or detract from a healthy
lifestyle and a healthy environment.
- Before shopping, check the refrigerator and cupboards so you won’t
buy food you already have. Every week, make a list of what should be used
up and base your upcoming meal plan on these items.
- To avoid having to throw out over-ripe fruit, store bananas, apples and
tomatoes by themselves, as they give off natural gases that make other
produce spoil faster. Store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
- Use your freezer! Freeze foods like bread, sliced fruit or meat that you
know won’t get eaten quickly.
- Participate in some of the environmentally friendly community programs
offered by Washington Hospital: Unused Medication Drop-off, Bike to Work
Day, Earth Day celebration, and more. See www.whhs.com/about/community/greenteam/
To learn more about Washington Hospital and its Green Team initiatives,
go to www.whhs.com. For more information about sustainability programs
sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and for more tips
on reducing wasted food at home, go to www.epa.gov. To learn more about
Healthcare Without Harm, go to www.noharm-uscanada.org.