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Elkhorn hospital goes green

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Ted Sullivan
October 25, 2008
— It started with a few employees at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center who wanted to make a difference.

They thought about the big picture, changed their habits and hoped to preserve the future.


They realized their children and grandchildren must live here. They asked others to make simple changes. People listened.


The transition started a year ago, and workers at the hospital now are doing more than providing health care: They’re helping the environment.


Aurora Lakeland used more than 461,000 pieces of plastic and Styrofoam in 2007 in its cafeteria. Studies show it takes 400 years for Styrofoam to decompose.


“We thought it was wrong that we were contributing so much waste that doesn’t go anywhere except into the ground,” said Inge Liegl, Aurora Lakeland’s food and nutrition services manager.


The hospital formed a “green committee” to implement change. Six other Aurora clinics in Walworth County are working to become green.


The hospital’s cafeteria quit using plastic or Styrofoam utensils and takeout trays.


It replaced them with paper or plastic materials made out of post-consumer recycled material. The tableware is recyclable or decomposes.


Other tableware is partially made from potato and corn starch.


The cafeteria also started saving its used vegetable oil. An employee recycles the oil to heat her home. A doctor uses the oil to power his vehicle.


And hospital staff was informed of ways they can help the environment.


People started bringing their own coffee mugs, silverware and Tupperware to work. If they needed the cafeteria’s tableware, they were asked to reuse it.


“They’ve really gotten the message,” said Andy Johnson, Aurora Lakeland’s spokesman. “I think it’s a heightened self-awareness on the part of the employees.”


People must pay an extra quarter to use each environmentally friendly product. They also can use the hospital’s dishes. But they’re encouraged to bring their own.


Lori Smith, a hospital employee, brings her own coffee mug to work. She also pays the extra money to use the recyclable tableware. Smith said she does what she can to help the environment.


Dr. Scott Dresden regularly grabs vegetable oil from the cafeteria to power his 2005 Ford Excursion. He had his vehicle’s engine converted to run on biofuel. It saves him money on gas, but it was an expensive conversion.


“I did it for the environment, definitely not for the economics of it,” he said. “It will probably never pay itself off.”


The hospital used to pay money to have the oil hauled away. Dresden collects oil from two other Aurora sites.


The oil often releases an odor of fish or French fries when he’s driving.


“When my car burns the veggie oil, it smells like whatever they fried,” Dresden said.


The hospital will look at other ways to go green.


“Any opportunity we have to be environmentally friendly and safe, we’ll take,” Liegl said. “Little by little, I think we’ll continue to find ways.”



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