The average restaurant produces 100,000 pounds of waste each year, a majority of which buried in landfills. If every restaurant in the country recycled, millions of tons of waste would be diverted from landfills. Even your waste grease can be converted to fuel, such as biodiesel.
Waste disposal is a significant burden on the environment. As existing landfills are quickly filled to capacity, opening and operating new landfills becomes increasingly more difficult and expensive. As disposal costs grow, disposal fees are passed on to businesses and residences. In addition, as petroleum products, metals, and electronic wastes decompose in our landfills they leach chemicals into the groundwater.
According to the USDA, Americans typically throw away a quarter of the food they buy, collectively discarding over 25 million tons of food products each year. When food waste sits in landfills, harmful gases are produced, including methane, which is 21 times more damaging to the environment than CO2. During the composting process, organic waste is diverted from landfills and put back into our food system, enriching our soil and minimizing pollution. Dozens of cities across America offer commercial composting services.
Waste prevention, recycling, and composting can reduce a restaurant’s waste stream by more than 90%. These processes not only help conserve landfill space, but also conserve natural resources and reduce air and water pollution.
Top 5 Steps a Food Service Facility Can Take to Decrease Waste
Become a Near Zero Waste facility, by recycling all paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, aluminum and food waste
Recycle used vegetable oil into biodiesel only (i.e. no other by-products)
Replace all single use disposable items with reusables.
Eliminate bottled water from your food service facility. There are many turnkey water filtration systems on the market that produce still or sparkling water in glass bottles – and you can still charge to create revenue.
Offer smaller portions, at least 25% smaller, for 50% of entrees at a reduced price
Because the average American generates 1,460 pounds of trash every year, purchasing condiments and other foods in bulk can greatly reduce the waste associated with a restaurant’s operations, conserving scarce landfill space.
Standard: In addition, condiments such as sugar, sweeteners, salt, and pepper should be served in reusable containers at the condiment bar, to avoid individual packaging. Cleaners should also be purchased in concentrated form and diluted with water.
BMP’s: Disposables, paper products, non-perishable condiments, and cleaners should be purchased in the greatest size and quantity possible so that packaging waste is minimized. This behavior will also save you money on shipping.
Standard: Use reusable cups, plates, and utensils for in store dining whenever possible. In fact, one of the biggest sources of customer waste is the never-ending stream of single-use paper and plastic cups. One way to reduce cup waste is to promote the use of reusable mugs by offering a financial incentive, such as a small discount, to customers who bring their reusable mugs. You can also offer employees additional discounts on any meals they purchase from the store if they bringing their own to-go containers.
Another way to reduce waste is to develop a system for reusing packaging materials, such as Styrofoam peanuts and cardboard boxes, if you have sufficient storage space.
High Efficiency Hand Dryers
Standard: Look for hand dryers that use less than 1500 Watts of energy and use dry hands in 10-15 seconds (75% faster than conventional dryers). This type of hand dryer costs less, and requires less energy and resources than paper towels. In order to maximize the environmental benefits and economic savings associated with high efficiency hand dryers, be sure to remove paper towels from your restrooms. If you are concerned about customers’ reactions to this change, post signage explaining why you made the change.
Maximize Recycling Efficacy
Basic recycling is mandatory for every Certified Green Restaurant®, but the efficacy of your recycling program can be increased through staff and consumer education, proper storage and signage, and by recycling additional materials.
BMP’s: Make sure managers know what materials they can and cannot recycle, how to properly sort and collect recyclable materials, and how to help customers do the same. Convey this to all existing and new employees through staff training sessions or monthly meetings.
Most recycling programs allow:
Metal: Aluminum & Tin Cans
Glass: Bottles & Jars (all colors)
Plastic: Items with the #1-7 printed on the bottom
Paper: Mixed paper, Magazines, Newspapers & Cardboard
Post-educational materials about the importance of recycling and what can be recycled for your staff. Don’t forget about those plastic bottles you use for cleaners and the plastic packaging that accompanies your deliveries. In many locations these are acceptable if they are labeled as #1-7.
BMP: Recycling must be incorporated into everyday store practice. This means creating areas where materials can be efficiently collected and stored. The front of the house should have visible, easily accessible customer bins, while the back-of-house should contain employee bins and an area for collecting and breaking down cardboard.
BMP: All bins should have appropriately shaped openings and clear signage to eliminate the possibility that customers might confuse it with the regular trash. These should be laminated to ensure longevity and monitored to determine their effectiveness.
Recycle Additional Materials
Food Waste and Compostable Disposables
Standard: According to the EPA, approximately 74% of the waste generated by restaurants is organic waste and most of that waste is compostable. By composting this material instead of sending it to the landfill, you can save money on your waste bills while helping to create a material that will enrich the soil of local farms. Tea bags, napkins, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds, are all compostable. Coffee grounds are nitrogen rich making them a particularly excellent material for composting.
Used Fryer Oil
Standard: Recycling used kitchen oil and grease diverts waste from landfills and incinerators, and supplies material for biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel serves as an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based diesel fuel, with approximately 50% less carbon monoxide emissions and 78% less carbon dioxide emissions than petroleum diesel on a life cycle basis. In some areas, including northern New Jersey, there are organizations and haulers that will pick up your used vegetable oil for free to be used for biofuel exclusively.
Standard: Ink jet cartridges can be easily recycled by mailing them back to the manufacturer. Most office supply stores, such as Staples, will take back used spent ink cartridges and you may even get a coupon toward your next purchase. You can also find local companies that will refill old cartridges and sell them as remanufactured products.
To recycle cartridges you should begin by saving the recycling envelopes that are included in the packaging when you purchase new cartridges. You should then establish a collection box for used ink cartridges. Finally, once every 3 months, ship used cartridges back to the manufacturer using your saved envelopes, or drop off used cartridges at a local Staples, Office Depot, or other cartridge recycling facility. To find an ink cartridge recycling facility if there are no Staples or Office Depots near you, visit http://earth911.com/recycling/inkjet-cartridges/ (click on “ink-jet cartridge” or “toner cartridge” under “electronics” and choose your location).
Standard: All fluorescent bulbs and some halogen lamps contain mercury. In most modern lamps these concentrations are not enough to endanger human health unless a lamp breaks and the mercury is directly inhaled. However, when these lamps end up in landfills and waste incinerators, the mercury is released into the air and water, and eventually ends up in aquatic systems, where it enters the food chain. When children eat fish containing mercury they can develop neurological problems, including learning disabilities and autism. Pregnant women, especially, can pass this mercury on to their unborn children. When adults consume mercury in large enough quantities they can get acute poisoning.
To implement a bulb recycling program establish a collection box for used fluorescent bulbs. Then, once every 6 months (or yearly, depending on how often these bulbs are recycled), properly dispose your bulbs by dropping them off at a lamp recycling facility. To find a lamp recycling facility, contact your local government, or visit either of these sites:
Batteries contain a slew of toxic chemicals including mercury, cadmium, and lead. If batteries are not disposed of in a recycling program they end up in landfills, where these chemicals can leach into local groundwater.
Standard: To implement a battery-recycling program, establish a collection box for used batteries. Once every 3 months, drop off your used batteries at a battery recycling facility. To find a battery recycling facility contacts your local government, or visit this site:
http://earth911.com/recycling/single-use-batteries/ (click on “single-use batteries” under “batteries” and choose your location)
Standard: “E-waste” is electronic waste/ electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life," for example: computers, televisions, telephones, stereos, printers, copiers, and fax machines. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals that can be recovered for recycling, conserving resources that would otherwise have to be mined from the earth to create new products. In addition, some electronic products contain high levels of lead, and other hazardous materials that will contaminate local groundwater if they end up in landfills. For information on where to recycle your e-waste contact your local government, or visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/live.htm.
Property managers are responsible for waste disposal on their premises. As a result, most stores do not have control over their own waste disposal operations. In order to make the establishment of a recycling system as easy as possible, it is advisable to request these services as part of the contract, prior to moving into a new location.
Make double-sided printing the default setting for all printers and copies. Better yet, purchase a printer that automatically prints double-sided, so you don’t have to feed the pages back into the printer.
Reuse scrap paper, including office paper, specials menus, old wine lists, etc.
Encourage employees to only print when necessary.
Track waste on a monthly basis, either by weight, number of bins filled, etc. Use programs like Lean Path and Trim Trax to see how making small changes can affect the amount of waste leaving your facility.
Don’t serve drinks in single-use containers (i.e. bottles and cans). Instead use soda gun, taps, etc.
Purchase reusable coasters instead of beverage napkins.
Use a chalkboard or message board to list specials, instead of printing individual menus each day.
Use a bulletin board for staff memos instead of printing a copy for each employee.
Use your influence with vendors to encourage them to:
Take back and reuse empty containers;
Stop using Styrofoam packaging and waxy cardboard;
Send all invoices, bills, etc. electronically.
If you’re going to use straws and napkins at a self-service area, try a dispenser system instead of piling them on the counter. Dispenser systems can significantly reduce the amount of unnecessary items customers grab.
If your dining establishment allows smoking outside, have an ashtray or other receptacle strategically placed where people congregate and smoke.
Donate as much as you can to local shelters and non-profits, from old Styrofoam containers to office supplies and linens.
Look for local material exchange programs and FreeCycle groups, http://www.freecycle.org/.
Donate electronic equipment such as old computers, phones, pagers, etc., to local schools and community groups. Or better yet, lease, rather than purchase, computers and printers.
Reuse envelopes by covering old addresses and postage with new labels and stamps.
Eliminate duplicates in your mailing lists. No need to send Mr. and Mrs. Smith separate invitations to your next event!
Use reusable hats for kitchen staff.
Reuse old tablecloths and napkins as rags.
Avoid placing leftover beverages and wet food in the dumpster, this will just add extra weight to your trash and run up your trash bills. Look for local farms, food banks or waste haulers who will collect your wet waste.
Keep excess paints for touch-ups, and give the remainder to hazardous waste collection programs, or back to the contractor or manufacturer.
Post signage explaining that storm drains drain to waterways and bays, whereas water draining to sewer drains will be treated.
Develop employee use policy for leftovers. For example, identify leftover items that can be sent home with employees and create a schedule for when employees can take the items.
Store and rotate perishable supplies to minimize spoilage and damage.
Standard: Over 3,000 tons of plastic containers are thrown away each year. Reduce waste by eliminating bottled water from your menu. There are many turnkey water filtration systems on the market that produce still or sparkling water in glass bottles – and you can still charge to create revenue.
It takes 12 trees to produce one ton of paper. Save trees, energy, and water by going paperless! Direct deposit is regularly a payroll option these days. However, some payroll companies will still send paper paystubs, so be sure to talk to your payroll companies to ensure they’re truly paperless.