P2Rx Home
  Advancing pollution prevention as a cornerstone of sustainability.
The P2Rx™ Topic Hub™ Project
Archived: P2Rx no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Browse by Keyword

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

The food service industry contributes significantly to our nation's economy and way of life. In the last ten years, this industrial sector has experienced continued real sales growth outpacing that of our nation's own economy. In 2001, typical daily sales averaged 1 billion dollars. Due to the vast number of food service operations and the nature of preparing and serving food, this industry uses tremendous volumes of natural resources and produces significant quantities of waste which together can result in major environmental impacts. The reasons for change for this industry to minimize waste are simple: food service managers can save money with decreased disposal fees, reduce regulatory burdens with minimal environmental releases, and stay competitive within their industry.

Changing or improving operations can have lasting effects on those food service establishments that are proactive in reducing wastes and increasing efficiency.  To remain competitive, businesses should consider going beyond traditional means of management and explore the opportunities to save money and help the environment with pollution prevention.  Many of the opportunities detailed in this section may already be in place; however, every business still has room for improvement. The areas detailed below present factual waste generation and economic data to demonstrate the benefits of minimizing waste in the food service industry.

Environmental Regulations
Food Waste
Energy Consumption


Many operators are striving to become more competitive and increase profits by minimizing waste generation. Wasted resources equal wasted revenues. Dollars trimmed from utility bills and the minimization of wasted product go directly to help the organization's bottom line.  In a commercial location with a 5 percent profit margin, $1,000 in savings is equivalent to $20,000 in extra sales.  Using materials and resources wisely also helps to ensure environmental sustainability and to present a positive image for the establishment. Additionally, at fast food restaurants, approximately 200 pounds of waste are generated for every $1,000 in sales.  If an establishment would reduce its waste by 10 to 15 percent a year, it would be unaffected by consequent rises in disposal costs and may save even more in reduced purchasing costs.

Packaging represents about 30 cents of every dollar spent on packaged goods and up to 60 percent of what is thrown away.  The more packaging a product has, the more effect that product has on your finances. Work with vendors to reduce the amount of packaging used or only do business with venders who limit the packaging of their products, because ultimately you pay to dispose of it.  This means the organization is double paying: once for the packaging as part of the purchased product, and again when your garbage bill arrives.

Environmental Regulations   

Stringent environmental regulations exist on federal, state and local levels that affect the solid waste, food waste and wastewater generated from food service operations. Refer to the Regulations ----link on this site for additional guidance on environmental regulations. 

  • Solid Waste: Many localities ban specific solid waste from landfills (aluminum cans, cardboard, metals, glass bottles and jars, some plastics). Corrugated cardboard packaging and paper materials are the most common types of solid waste in the food service industry. Other types generated include glass, metals, wood and plastics.  A study conducted by R.W. Beck and Associates (Denver) showed that fast food restaurant waste is 50.5 percent paper, 13.6 percent plastics and 1.1 percent glass. The percentages in full-service restaurant waste: 20.2 percent paper, 10.8 percent glass, and 4.6 percent plastics.  Studies indicate that about one and a half pounds of trash are produced for each restaurant meal served.  
  • Wastewater: Wastewater regulations may apply to most food service operations in the form of fats, oil and grease (FOG) limits which are typically set and regulated by municipal authorities. Oil and grease discharges are a major problem for sanitary sewer systems. If not properly managed, FOG can result in overflows of untreated wastewater into bodies of water or even into homes and businesses causing health and environmental impacts. 

While grease and oil from fryers and other cooking equipment is collected and recycled, large quantities of grease are washed down the drains from washing greasy cookware to hosing down the floors. The average full-service restaurant will wash 9 to 20 pounds of grease down the drain for every 150 meals served.  Food wastes in wastewater lead to organic overload at treatment plants and FOG build up on interior sewer walls causes blockages which lead to sanitary sewer overflows.  The water from these overflows contaminates natural water sources and often kills high numbers of aquatic life and could potentially get into drinking water sources.  Shown below are pictures of an actual sanitary sewer overflow and FOG accumulated on a sewer wall.


The following links provide information on preventing sanitary sewer/storm drain overflows:

Considerations in Establishing a Municipal Oil and Grease Program   
Sanitary Sewer Overflows
Town of Cary Fats, Oils and Grease Control Ordinance

Water Fact: According to GA Maxwell's, City of Marysville, Wash.: 70 million meals are served each day in U.S. restaurants. If one-quarter of the customers declined water service, 26 million gallons of fresh water would be saved every day.

The link below highlights the usage of water for certain food service industry equipment. Analysis of typical water usage for certain food service equipment: dishwashers, faucets, ice machines, garbage disposals   

  • Air Emissions: On a local level, food service and food retail operations are generally not significant sources of air pollution. However, given the vast number of establishments operating all over the world and the amount of refrigeration and cooling operations at each location, this significance could be of greater concern.

Food service and food retail operations have a strong effect on the environment through their excessive use of refrigerants. This industry represents the largest commercial user of refrigeration and cooling equipment.Refrigeration and cooling operations are notorious for their generation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are gases under ambient pressures and normal temperatures and are characterized as having high ozone depletion potential (ODP).  CFCs are nontoxic, nonflammable and noncorrosive.  However, once released into the atmosphere, they stimulate a chemical breakdown of the stratospheric ozone layer that protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

Listed below are resources which demonstrate reasons for CFC elimination and discuss options on how to deal with CFC refrigerants through the recycling of refrigerants, retrofitting equipment for CFC-free compounds, or replacement with CFC-free equipment.

Benefits of the CFC Phaseout
Pollution - The CFC Challenge

Coefficient of Performance Improvement of Refrigerator/Freezer, Air-Conditioners, and Heat Pumps Using Nonazeotropic Refrigerant Mixtures

Technologies for CFC/Halon Destruction

Eliminating Ozone Depleting Substances in the Production of Refrigerators

Save Money and the Environment with an Energy-Efficient CFC Solution

Food Waste  

It is reported that more than 30 percent of restaurant garbage is made up of food waste.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that 21.9 million tons of food waste were generated in 1997. This represents the third largest category of solid waste or 10.1 percent of the total by weight.   

Companies that generate large volumes of food waste have been able to derive economic benefit from donation and composting. Although upfront costs are necessary to collect, handle and properly contain the food waste, that cost is offset by a decrease in waste disposal fees. When large volumes of food waste are removed from the business' general waste stream, disposal costs decrease by reducing the number of trash containers and/or the pickup frequency. This also reduces weight, which is another measure by which businesses are charged for disposal. Minimizing food waste generation will reduce the amount of waste going to area landfills, helping to avoid costly expansions. Additionally, food waste minimization may make the environment immediately surrounding the facility neater, cleaner and fresher-smelling.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that one-quarter of all food produced in the United States is wasted.  This number is stifling when one considers the amount of people in this world who are starving to death every day. Food donation is a countermeasure to food waste and is the collection of wholesome food for distribution to the poor and hungry. More information about food recovery methods can be found on the following Web pages:

USDA Gleaning and Food Recovery Home Page
USDA Food, Nutrition and Customer Service

A Fact Sheet for Licensed Garbage Feeders
(Pg. 1)
Don't Throw Away That Food: Strategies for Record-Setting Waste Reduction     
U.S. "Good Samaritan" Law  
N.C. Food donation Act

Energy Consumption  

It is reported that the total energy consumption in commercial food service and food retail industries amounts to less than one percent of the total national energy consumption. Total energy consumption for commercial food service in 1995 was 332 trillion Btu and 137 trillion Btu in food retail. This amounts to roughly 6.2 percent and 2.6 percent of total commercial building energy consumption, respectively. Typically, 4 percent of gross restaurant expenses is directly related to energy costs.

The chart below demonstrates that the most significant uses of energy for the commercial foodservice industry are cooking, lighting, refrigeration and space heating.

Source: Energy Information Administration


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
Contact email: abray@newmoa.org

Hub Last Updated: 3/18/2009