MADISON (WKOW) -- There's often that decision about what to drink at the average soft drink dispenser. At Meriter Hospital in Madison, there was just as much headscratching over the cups themselves.
"Meriter employees would come to us and say, 'Find a better alternative to styrofoam,' " said hospital nutrition director Julie Sampson.
So six months later, the cafeteria debuted cups made from corn by-products. The traditional polystyrene foam cups stopped being offered on Monday.
Sampson said the benefits from the change means the hospital will rely less on petroleum products. The new cups, made from a renewable material, also have the potential to biodegrade. "If this is composted," said Sampson, "this could break down into soil within 45 to 90 days."
Same story for new to-go containers. They're made from corn and sugarcane and about to hit the cafeteria line as well once some further testing is completed.
"We did the first step in getting this product in and using it," said Sampson. "The next step will be, how can we partner with somebody to compost it?"
Therein lies the problem. Back in March, we showed you the emerging line of biodegradable plastics on the market. Also made from corn, sugarcane, and potato starch, they can't break down in landfills.
Many won't even decompose in all backyard compost piles. "It would not go as fast if it were to biodegrade in a 'controlled,' and that's how they say it, a 'controlled' composting environment," Kari Correia explained to use then. Correia is a sales representative at Kessenich's, a restaurant and catering supplier in Madison.
"I thought it would be an easier process that people would just take this up and compost it," agreed Sampson. "It actually isn't quite that easy." She is now researching who can take the hospital's good intentions off their hands. So far, the closest composter she has located is near Pardeeville.
Even at twice the cost of the old styrofoam stand-bys, Sampson said she's happy with the change hitting the cafeteria. That's partly because of the huge potential a change like this contains, given the huge volume of nonrecycable and nonbiodegradable trash generated at facilities like hospitals.
Sampson said every year at Meriter, about 260,000 foam cups and 182,000 foam to-go containers are thrown away each year. Until a composter can be found for the hospital, she said those new cups are being thrown in the trash like the old foam ones.
Among future changes would be biodegradable plates and straws... perhaps utensils made from potato starch.