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Food Service: P2 Opportunities
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
P2 Opportunities
Case Studies
Where To Go for P2 Help
Complete List of Links

Environmental impacts from food service operations can be significant if improperly managed. For example, the U.S. EPA estimates that approximately 5 gallons of wastewater are generated during the preparation of a single meal.  Pollution prevention (P2) provides food service managers options to reduce the quantities of waste generated and improve efficiency of operations without sacrificing customer satisfaction.  The P2 ideas and techniques described herein are fairly simple to implement and may be already in practice.  Information in this section can help the user make changes to save the organization money and better the environment. 

The P2 opportunities are categorized by the major areas of food service operations:  

Front of House

Back of House

  • Solid Waste
  • Food and Beverage Waste
  • Wastewater
  • Energy
  • Food Storage Waste
  • Food Preparation Waste
  • Wastewater
  • Energy Usage
       Cooking Equipment
  • Equipment Maintenance and Clean-up

Site Exterior

General Operations

  • Purchasing
       Other Considerations
  • Solid Waste Recycling
  • Employee Training and Involvement

Also presented are industry-specific waste reduction resources.  

Getting Started

This guidance offers a menu of P2 items that can help to cut operational costs and enhance the environment.  The steps below provide direction on using the provided information and going to the next level of improvement. This section benefited from information from the "Restaurant Waste Minimization/Pollution Prevention Handbook" developed by the State of Hawaii, Office of Solid Waste Management, Department of Health.

  1. Review the suggestions in this section for improvement.  
  2. Evaluate current operations for applicability with those identified ideas that are practical and realistically achievable.
  3. Pay close attention to waste food and packaging materials and energy, chemical and water usage. Remember these costs can be controlled and should not be considered "fixed" costs.
  4. Challenge yourself to think about how these ideas fit into your food service operations.
  5. Involve managers and employees to implement and maintain the pollution prevention efforts.  People that understand why they are taking on a new task are more inclined to make it a success.
  6. Integrate pollution prevention into your financial decisions and make P2 a permanent way of doing business. 

Front of House

Solid Waste:

  • Distribute condiments, napkins and straws from behind the counter as opposed to providing them self-serve. Train employees to give a set amount each time or provide condiments in bulk containers and then transfer them to reusable dispensers instead of using portioned controlled packets.
  • When preparing take-out food orders, minimize the amount of extra packaging used (double-wrapping, double-bagging).
  • Instead of serving drinks on napkins, use reusable coasters or serve on the bare tabletop.
  • Use reusable (laminated) menus, eliminate paper inserts, and use boards (chalk, dry erase, etc) to post daily specials.
  • Eliminate paper placemats and paper tray liners; trays are sanitized after each use.
  • Encourage customers to use reusable beverage containers.
  • Use reusable metal or nylon coffee filters.
  • If you sell beverages in bottles and cans, place a recycling bin in the dining area that is accessible and easy to identify.
  • Use linen/cloth table linens and napkins and reusable dish and serving ware.
  • Use cloth cleaning towels rather than paper products.
  • Set up a clearly marked and accessible recycling area for glass, plastic, aluminum cans, serving ware and trays for customer use. 

Food and Beverage Waste:

  • Adjust portions if they are consistently being returned unfinished; offer guests the option of ordering half-portions.
  • Set up salad bar offerings in smaller containers and replenish them more often to reduce the amount of discarded salad bar food waste.
  • Serve carbonated drinks from a beverage gun or dispenser rather than bottle or can.  If you have to use glass/plastic containers or cans, establish a recycling program for the used beverage containers.
  • Use reusable syrup canisters rather than the bag-in-the-box containers.
  • Purchase milk in large plastic dispenser bags, delivered in steel crates, and used in "steel cows" rather than buying milk by the gallon or in paperboard cartons.
  • Buy bar mixes and juice in concentrate form; reconstitute and portion into reusable serving containers rather than the ready to use mixes.
  • Offer only draft beer instead of bottled beer. 
  • Check the syrup-to-water (brix) calibration for drink dispensers at least twice a week.
  • Clean drink dispenser nozzles daily to ensure proper quantity and quality.


  • Only offer water upon customer request.
  • Use dry clean-up methods when removing spills from the dining area; remove the spill/wet materials with absorbents, squeegees, wet/dry vac before washing/sanitizing areas with water and cleaners.
  • Check the ice machines and water coolers to ensure that they are designed to recycle the cooling water and are not the "once-through" water use types.
  • Install low-flow faucet adapters and/or automatic turn-off faucets, and low-flow toilets in restrooms.  Refer to Chapter 4 of the Water Efficiency Manual for Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Facilities for detailed guidance on retrofitting existing units with water-saving fixtures. 


Back of House

Food Storage Waste:

  • Inspect all produce deliveries for any substandard or rotten product and for damaged containers.
  • Establish a perishable stock rotation procedure and promptly date all incoming products to help properly rotate perishable items.
  • Raw vegetables and other perishables should be stored in airtight, reusable containers.
  • Vegetables should be stored as far from condenser units as possible.
  • Tomatoes should never be stored near lettuce. A gas emitted by tomatoes turns lettuce brown.
  • Do not overstock. Adjust inventory levels according to usage levels to make certain food is not thrown out due to spoilage or dehydration.
  • To minimize spills and breakage, refrigerated and dry storage areas should be arranged for easy entr?e and food rotation.
  • All products placed in the freezer should be well-wrapped and dated to prevent freezer burn.
  • Hot foods that are going to be refrigerated should be placed in shallow containers and pre-cooled beforehand to prevent untimely spoilage and overworking of your cooler.
  • Store unwrapped paper supplies securely so they do not inadvertently fall on the floor and become unusable.

Food Preparation Waste:

  • To minimize over-prepping and excessive waste, develop hourly or daily production charts and prepare meals to order if possible.
  • Instead of throwing away meat and vegetable trimmings, use them to make soup stock.
  • Reuse leftover cream-based sauces, soups and poultry, and seafood-based menu items within two days of original preparation.
  • Plan menus so that fresh ingredients are interchangeable among recipes so produce and other perishable foods can be used in different recipes.
  • Donate any edible unsold food products to local food distribution centers.  Refer to America's Second Harvest organization which has locations nationwide that handle and distribute food donations to the needy. The National Restaurant Association also has guidance for restaurateurs in donating food. 
  • Explore food waste composting options with your local solid waste representative. Information is available at the Compost Resource Page
  • Collect unusable food scraps for use as animal feed by local farmers.  The N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance's fact sheet on Licensed Garbage Feeders is helpful to determine the requirements of donating food for animal consumption.


  • Never hose materials down the drain. This practice not only wastes water but also contributes to accumulation of solids in sewer systems and organic loading at the wastewater treatment plant.
  • Utilize dry clean-up methods by cleaning spills with a squeegee, broom or wet-vac before using water and cleaners.
  • FOG: Discharges of fats, oil and grease (FOG) to the sanitary sewer system should be minimized to avoid costly and unhealthy blockages and overflows from build-up of this waste in the municipal pipes.  FOG presents a significant problem for wastewater collection and treatment systems. Many local sewer authorities have specific limits for FOG concentrations allowed into the sanitary sewer systems from commercial/institutional food service locations.  Additionally, stringent regulations exist in most towns that also require installation and maintenance of grease separation devices. Facilities that may be required to install and operate a grease separation device include:

    • restaurants, bars, grills, delis, movie theatres
    • hospital/school/rest home/day care cafeterias
    • grocery stores, food stands
    • churches,lodges, clubs
    • caterers

  • For example, accumulation of the waste material accounts for more than 30 percent of all sanitary sewer system overflows (SSOs) statewide in North Carolina and 50 percent on a local level. FOG overflows are expensive to repair and cause tremendous environmental and health impacts.  Cleaning and replacement of building drain lines and municipal sewer lines is a costly but necessary financial burden that can be significantly reduced by implementing best management practices (BMPs).  BMPS are practical measures that when taken will help to drastically reduce the amounts of FOG released into municipal discharge pipes.  The BMPS to keep FOG out of drains include:
  • Do not pour grease, fats and oils down the drain. Scrape grease from serving/baking trays, pots/pans and wares and place in a container for recycling or disposal.
  • Do not use the sewer as a way to dispose of food waste. Place food scraps in waste containers or garbage bags.  Consider composting food waste.  Check with local solid waste authorities for additional information.
  • Maintain all grease separation devices in accordance with local regulations and manufacturer's specifications.
  • Ensure that any collected grease is handled by a reputable and licensed service provider and that you know where and how the waste grease will eventually be recycled/disposed.  
  • Train employees on proper FOG handling and provide adequate tools to facilitate ware-scraping and removal of grease before using water.
  • These BMPs and other forms of guidance for sizing and maintaining grease separation devices are detailed in Considerations for Management of Discharge of Fats, Oil and Grease to the Sanitary Sewer System.

Energy Usage:

    Cooking Equipment:

  • Preheat cooking equipment according to the manufacturer?s recommendations. Exceeding manufacturer?s specifications can increase energy use.
  • Use cooking equipment to full capacity. Fully-loaded equipment utilizes energy more efficiently.
  • Turn off backup fryers and turn ovens down or off during low production periods.
  • Do not overload fryer baskets beyond the manufacturer?s recommended capacity. Overloading baskets can increase cooking time and energy use.
  • Check oven doors for a tight fit and to ensure gaskets are in good condition. Adjust and/or replace door seals and gaskets as necessary.
  • Clean equipment regularly as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Purchase insulated cooking equipment (fryers, ovens, coffee machines) whenever possible.
    Refrigeration: The information provided in this subsection was taken from Commercial Energy Savings Tips from Roseville Electric, Roseville Electric, Roseville, California.
  • Maintain display fixtures and freezers at the following temperatures for maximum energy savings:
    • Frozen food cases -8?F
    • Ice cream cases/chests -14?F
    • Deli cases 35?F
    • Beer cases 40?F
    • Soda/dairy cases 40?F 
  • Keep products below marked load lines in freezers and coolers. Overloaded displays decrease product quality and increase energy use by as much as 10 to 20 percent per unit.
  • Follow the manufacturer?s recommendations for shelf positions and sizes to prevent increased refrigeration loads.
  • Keep doors on refrigerated units open as little as necessary when unloading or restocking.
  • Use recommended night covers on low temperature fixtures, and keep covers below load lines to reduce compressor run time and save energy.
  • Clean condensing fins and plates monthly, and inspect for ice buildup and bent fins.
  • Check door latches and gaskets on refrigeration and freezer units regularly; adjust latches and replace worn door gaskets as needed.
  • When purchasing new refrigeration systems, select the higher energy efficiency rating (EER). The greater the cooling capacity for each kWh of energy input, the greater the efficiency of the system.
  • Brush condenser coils weekly with a nonmetallic brush and clean coils monthly if dust buildup is extensive.
  • Check refrigerant monthly for correct charge, clean meat and dairy cases monthly, and clean produce and freezer cases every three months.
  • Check refrigerator and freezer gaskets annually for leaks and wear and replace as needed; perform checks on refrigeration and freezer units to determine whether units are level (upright doors should close automatically from an open position). Check automatic defrost cycles annually and have adjusted if necessary by a trained service technician.

Equipment Maintenance

  • Employ a weekly cleaning and maintenance program for all equipment and follow manufacturer's standard operating procedures. This program should include calibrating ovens and checking pipes for leaks.
  • Check refrigerator and freezer gaskets annually for leaks and wear, and replace as needed. Perform annual checks on refrigeration and freezer units to determine whether units are level; upright doors should close automatically from an open position.
  • Have automatic defrost cycles checked annually and adjusted if necessary by a trained service technician.
  • Oven equipment should be kept calibrated to prevent the burning of products.
  • Ensure all grease separation devices are routinely maintained and cleaned by an officially licensed professional.  Contact your local water utility for a listing of service providers.
  • If your refrigeration unit contains CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), you may have to meet certain air quality requirements for servicing and replacement of the refrigerant. Contact your state air quality office for guidance in determining if your unit falls under any specific regulations. 

Equipment Cleaning

  • To extend the life of the fryer oil, it should be cleaned and the oil filtered on a daily basis to prevent carbon buildup on the bottom, which acts as an insulator, causing excessive heat and therefore breaking down oil sooner.
  • If multiple fryers are in use, develop a rotation system and delegate a fryer to one specific product which yields more carbon deposits and change oil more frequently. 
  • Purchase multipurpose cleaning formulas in concentrated form and dilute to needed volumes in reusable containers.
  • Purchase less toxic cleaning supplies. Refer to EPA's EnviroSense siteto locate environmentally friendly cleaners and their suppliers.
  • Review cleaning contracts to specify use of nontoxic cleaners in new or renegotiated contracts.
  • Post product material safety data sheets (MSDS) to provide information to employees on safe product usage, storage and handling.
  • Clean equipment in a designated indoor area, such as a mop sink, pot sink, or floor area with a drain connected to the sanitary sewer (indoor plumbing)
  • Clean equipment in a designated covered outdoor area with a drain connected to the sanitary sewer (indoor plumbing, don?t allow food wastes to accumulate in this area)

Site Exterior 

Energy (Lighting):

  • Exterior lighting is one of the best places to use compact fluorescent lights because of their long life. If you live in a cold climate, be sure to buy a lamp with a cold weather ballast. 
  • Use outdoor lights with a photocell unit or a timer so they will turn off during the day.
  • Turn off decorative outdoor gas lamps; just eight gas lamps burning year-round use as much natural gas as it takes to heat an average-size home during an entire winter.

Energy (Weatherization):

  • Install weatherstripping around exterior doors and operable windows, and around doors between heated and unheated or cooled and uncooled spaces.
  • Install door bottoms, thresholds or door "shoes" to seal gaps beneath exterior doors and doors to unheated or uncooled spaces.
  • Insulate exterior walls and floors, and insulate roof or ceiling spaces to R-19 standards or above wherever possible.
  • Caulk cracks and gaps around windows and doors, in the building foundation, and between different building materials.
  • Repair roof leaks. Insulation will lose effectiveness when wet.
  • Repair and maintain door and window weatherstripping to prevent water and moisture entry, which causes doors and windows to warp and deteriorate.


  • Avoid hosing down sidewalks, driveways and parking lots; use dry clean-up methods to reduce the amount of water used.
  • Do not clean up spills by hosing into the gutter or a storm drain; instead use dry clean up or absorption. To prevent a spill from entering a storm drain, protect the drain with sandbags or  absorbent rags, or temporarily seal with plastic sheeting.
  • To minimize runoff to storm drains, fix equipment water leaks from pipes and equipment.
  • Avoid the use of bleach or disinfectants if there is a possibility that the rinse water could flow to a street, gutter or storm drain.
  • Make sure tallow bins (fats, oils and grease recycling bin), and any other containers of waste grease, are kept tightly covered to prevent runoff into storm drain and to prevent problems with rats and insects.
  • Contain and cover all solid and liquid wastes (especially during transfer).
  • Keep trash receptacle lids closed to prevent rainwater from entering, and never place liquid waste or leaky garbage bags into a trash receptacle. Keep the trash receptacle enclosure locked to prevent illegal dumping.
  • Don?t hose out the inside of the trash receptacle in areas that drain to the storm drain system.
  • Soak up any fluids spilled in the trash receptacle with absorbent pads. The trash receptacle may be hosed if the wash area drains to the municipal sanitary sewer.
  • Leaking trash containers and compactors, and trash containers that need to be cleaned out, should be replaced and serviced by the trash container leasing company.
  • Spill cleanup materials should be kept handy near the trash container and loading dock areas.
  • The outdoor waste receptacle area should be graded and paved in a manner which will prevent run-on of storm water.
  • Store the waste receptacle in a covered enclosure with wash-down capability.


  • Consider xeriscaping by converting lawns, trees and shrubs that require additional water to plants that need less of this natural resource. The City of Albuquerque's Public Works Water Conservation Office Xeriscaping Site has step-by-step information. Additionally, consider:
    • Removing weeds and unhealthy plants so water goes only to wanted plants; mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and discourage weed growth.
    • Installing soil moisture overrides or timers on sprinkler systems and ensuring irrigation equipment applies water uniformly. Water in the early morning or evening when evaporation is lowest and explore the advantages of using drip irrigation systems.
    • Avoiding runoff by making sure sprinklers cover just the lawn or garden and don't reach sidewalks, driveways or gutters.
    • Using up pesticides by rinsing containers and using rinse water as product. Dispose of unused pesticide as hazardous waste.
    • Review pest management contracts to specify use of nontoxic alternatives in new or renegotiated contracts.
    • Collecting lawn and garden clippings, pruning waste and tree trimmings (chip if necessary, and compost or dispose appropriately) and not placing clippings, pruning waste or tree trimmings in gutters. Do not blow or rake leaves/debris into the street.


Environmentally friendly purchasing can save money in avoided disposal costs and reduce environmental impacts.  The U.S. EPA recommends the following "green" practices for food packaging purchases; these are fully detailed in Greening Your Purchase of Food Serviceware.


  • Pick products that easily biodegrade.
  • Select nonrigid packaging (foil or paper wrap) whenever appropriate since it is of lighter weight, uses fewer resources than rigid clamshell containers, and occupies less landfill space.
  • Use packaging made from renewable sources (wood fiber or other crop derived substances).
  • Buy recycled and/or bleached fiber content packaging.
  • Use minimum weight within food packaging type.

    Other Considerations

  • Incorporate a plan with your vendors to take back used shipping containers (plastic or other durable material) for reuse  or recycling.
  • Whenever possible buy products in the concentrate form, particularly bar mixes and cleaning supplies. This will save money and free space in storerooms and ultimately in the landfill.
  • Use multipurpose cleaners that are nontoxic or less toxic to nature.
  • Whenever possible purchase nonperishable foods in bulk.
  • Buy locally and organically grown food items to avoid the pollution associated with transportation and pesticides. This provides guests with the freshest foods in season.

Solid Waste Recycling:

  • Refer to the Recycling Guidebook for the Hospitality and Restaurant Industry for information on establishing and maintaining a food service recycling program. In addition to the guidebook's suggestions, consider: 
    • Offering your empty plastic pails and buckets to area schools, nurseries and churches or explore possible markets for recyclable materials.
    • Donating all old uniforms to Goodwill, Salvation Army or other local thrift shops.
    • Make vendors responsible for taking back pallets and crates for reuse.

Employee Training and Involvement:

For any waste reduction program to be a success, the employees of the organization must be aware of and involved in the efforts to improve.  Food service staff must know and understand how and why their work performance can contribute to increased efficiency within the organization. The following ideas will help managers and staff integrate BMPs into their jobs.

  • Develop a pollution prevention policy that demonstrates upper management's support for the waste reduction efforts. Clearly communicate the policy to all existing and new employees.
  • Incorporate recycling/waste reduction responsibilities into employee job duties and new employee training.
  • Involve staff in making decisions affecting the organization's operations.  Establish a waste reduction/recycling team with program goals.  
  • Solicit and recognize employee ideas and suggestions for improvement. 
  • Provide incentives for employee involvement and participation. 
  • Have employees conduct a waste assessment to determine the types and quantities of materials in the waste stream and ways to reduce them.  Ensure staff review purchasing practices, delivery and storage operations, food preparation and cooking, recycling, and cleaning methods.
  • Provide feedback to employees on the P2 efforts.  Report on waste/energy reduced and money saved and highlight successes. 
  • Refer to Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources Recycling and Waste Reduction in the Restaurant Industry for guidance on establishing a successful employee-based recycling and waste reduction program.


Reducing Solid Waste (Including Food Waste)

Reducing Water Emissions (Fats, Oils, and Greases (FOG)


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Food Service Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange
Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange
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Hub Last Updated: 3/18/2009