Hospitals are known for having sick people but they contain even more hungry people: In the case of St. Joseph Hospital, 100 beds worth of them, plus hundreds of staffers and volunteers.
The result is lots and lots of food thrown out, which really annoys Mark McKenna - who, among other things, oversees the hospital's trash-disposal budget.
"We've been recycling since 2009, and this just seemed like the next natural step," said McKenna, director of hospitality services.
In November, the hospital began a food-composting system, separating all food scraps during preparation in the kitchen so they can be picked up and turned into natural fertilizer instead of landfill filler.
"It was maybe a little bit difficult in the beginning, but not any more," said Elena Kharina, a cook, gesturing at a "slim jim," a type of trash can. "We throw all food there."
The result is good for the environment - and doesn't hurt the bottom line, McKenna said.
Waste that's sent to a Haverhill incinerator costs $78.50 a ton to get rid of, plus a $121 hauling fee; compostable food costs $35 a ton to get rid of, with a $40 hauling fee. This isn't much money in the scheme of the $950,000 food budget, since the hospital generates about 11/2 tons of food waste a month, but every bit helps.
McKenna says he worked on the project for nearly a year before it could be started, largely because it was hard finding somebody to pick up the separated food.
The food is picked up once a week by New England Solid Waste Consultants Inc. in Rowley, Mass. - the only major hauler for it in the region.
Food waste makes up nearly 20 percent of business for the New England Solid Waste, said owner Roy Ferreira Jr.