Stella Maris retirement and care center in Timonium has been undergoing a "green initiative" for the last year and a half.
While the green movement has involved traditional steps — such as replacing light bulbs and recycling cans and paper — the biggest changes are in the food department, where utensils made from cornstarch and bowls made from sugar cane are now the norm.
Available right now only in the center's retail cafe, the new utensils and plates are one of many steps the food department is taking to cut down its waste, according to Cheryl Mohn, director of dietary services for Stella Maris.
"We're eliminating Styrofoam," Mohn said. "We're using products that, when disposed of, are environmentally friendly."
Residents of Stella Maris who have their meals delivered or eat in the cafeteria no longer have plastic lids covering their beverages and soups.
"We eliminated the disposable lid and went to reusable," Mohn said. "We put it on, collect it, wash and sanitize it and use it again."
By using reusable tops, a great deal of plastic is eliminated, Mohn said. In addition, all residents who take food home from the cafeteria are given reusable containers that are washed and used again.
While some may argue that energy is wasted for the extra washing of materials, Mohn said the reusable containers and lids are worth the few extra washings required. She admits, however, that "going green" is not cheap, and was not "an undertaking done lightly."
"You have to plan for the economic impact," Mohn said. "The products are pretty pricey. It is an expense you have to plan for."
A typical disposable plate costs a couple cents, while cornstarch cutlery and sugar-cane plates triple the costs, she said.
"You spend a lot of green to be green," Mohn said. "We focus on reusable as much as we can."
Stella Maris also organizes a campus cleanup, Mohn said.
"We go and pick up the grounds," Mohn said. "Our runoff goes pretty close to Loch Raven Reservoir. We do our campus cleanup around Earth Day. Everyone goes around with trash bags and gloves."
Mohn is planning to continue her efforts to be green by researching composting to see if it would work and be feasible for the center.
Raised gardens are also included in the "green initiative," with this year's batch scheduled to be planted this month. Residents of Stella Maris will care for the beds, which feature herbs and flowers.
"We harvest the different herbs and use them here in the kitchen," Mohn said. "The residents have fun doing it."