Comprehensive Waste Management Strategies for Restaurants

Food Waste Management Hierachy found on Communities across the country are facing mounting solid waste disposal problems. Existing landfills are quickly being filled to capacity and finding and opening new ones are becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive. These expenses are ultimately passed on to residents and businesses. According to the Center for American Progess, “landfills are a significant source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the United States. They are the nation’s third-largest source of methane emissions, producing 18 percent of that pollutant.”

Restaurants can do a lot to minimize or reduce these cost increases by incorporating simple recycling and waste reduction programs that will eliminate much of the waste otherwise thrown away.

Here are some tips we thought would be useful in designing a waste reduction program from California Integrated Waste Management Board. California has been a leader in taking waste reduction under their belt and have made major progress. Some tips may only apply to full-service restaurants and quick service restaurants or all may apply to both.


  • Ask your suppliers to keep you advised of new and existing products that meet your needs and are packaged in ways which can reduce the amount of material to be disposed.
  • Ask your suppliers to take back shipping boxes for reuse and recycling.
  • Serve carbonated beverages from a beverage gun or dispenser rather than by the bottle or can.
  • Recycle wine and liquor bottles.
  • Buy bar mixes in concentrate form, reconstitute and portion into reusable containers.
  • Buy and use dispenser beverages (juice, ice tea, hot chocolate) in concentrate it bulk form.
  • Use refillable condiment bottles and refill from bulk size containers.
  • Use health department approved refillable condiment dispensers (cream for coffee, sugar, ketchup, etc.) instead of portion-controlled packets.
  • Buy shelf-stable food supplies in bulk when sales volume and storage space justifies it.
  • Consider buying pickles, mayonnaise, salad dressings and the like in containers such as plastic-lined cardboard, cry-o-vac or foil pouches rather than hard plastic pails and buckets.
  • Buy lettuce precut during the times of year when the precut cost is equal to or less than the true cost of bulk lettuce.
  • Buy meats in bulk or uncut form and cut to size.
  • Buy shelled eggs in bulk if your egg usage for general cooking or baking is 3 or more cases per week.
  • Purchase paper products made from recycled materials.
  • Eliminate as much Styrofoam as possible and replace with paper packaging.
  • Use straw-style stir sticks for bar beverages instead of the solid style and use only one per drink.
  • Serve straws from health department approved dispensers rather than offering them pre-wrapped.
  • Use reusable coasters instead of paper napkins when serving beverages from the bar.
  • Use reusable table linen and dinnerware.
  • Use hot-air hand dryers in your restrooms.
  • Use cloth cleaning towels.
  • Use plastic trashcan liners made of recycled HDPE instead of ones made of LDPE or LLPDE.
  • Purchase cleaning supplies in concentrate.
  • Use multipurpose cleaners and whenever possible use cleaning agents that are the least toxic or nontoxic.
  • Use cleanable and reusable hats for kitchen employees instead of disposable paper ones.



  • Check your produce deliveries carefully for rotten or damaged product. Return any substandard product before signing off on the delivery.
  • Rotate perishable stocks at every delivery to minimize waste due to spoilage. Date products with the date received in case they get mixed up.
  • Clean food coolers and freezers regularly to ensure food has not fallen behind the shelving and spoiled.
  • Arrange both refrigerated and dry storage to facilitate easy product access and rotation.
  • Store and handle unwrapped paper supplies so as to prevent them from inadvertently falling on the floor.
  • Store raw vegetables and other perishables in reusable airtight containers to prevent unnecessary dehydration and spoilage.
  • Reconstitute stalky vegetables (celery, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, etc.) that have wilted by trimming off the very bottom of the stalks and immersing them in warm water (100° F) for fifteen to twenty minutes.
  • Date freezer products, wrap tightly and use in a timely fashion to minimize waste due to freezer burn.
  • Donate extra food to a food bank.



  • Adjust inventory levels on perishables to minimize waste due to spoilage or dehydration.
  • Develop and use hourly or daily production charts to minimize over-prepping and unnecessary waste.
  • Whenever possible, prepare foods to order to minimize waste due to over preparation.
  • When prepping food, only trim off what is not needed. If too much trimming is observed, retrain your prep staff, change the product’s size specification or buy it already proportioned.
  • Use vegetable and meat trimmings for soup stock.
  • Evaluate and adjust the size of your meal portions if you find they are consistently being returned unfinished. Offer smaller portions and price them accordingly.
  • Pre-cool steam table hot foods in an ice bath before placing them in the cooler. Also place hot foods into clean, shallow containers before storing in the cooler. This helps prevent premature spoilage.
  • Reuse leftover cream-based sauces and soups (that have been properly stored) within two days of original preparation to prevent waste due to spoilage.
  • Store leftover hot foods from different stations in separate containers rather than consolidating them to minimize the change of spoilage.



  • Develop and implement a monthly cleaning and maintenance program for all equipment.
  • Keep refrigeration in good running order to prevent unnecessary spoilage resulting from broken equipment.
  • Check the syrup-to-water (brix) calibration on your beverage dispensers at least twice a week and adjust if necessary. Also, clean the heads and dispenser tips daily.
  • Keep oven equipment calibrated to prevent over-baked product.
  • Clean fryers and filter the oil daily. This extends the life of the fryer and the oil. Use a test kit to determine when to change the fryer oil.
  • Create incentives for staff to reduce the breakage or loss of china, glass and utensils.
  • Place rubber mats around bus and dishwasher stations to reduce breakage from slipping.
  • Have employees use permanent-ware mugs or cups for their drinks.
  • Minimize excess use of trash bags by manually compacting the trash in trash cans. If feasible, purchase a trash compactor.
  • Check for discarded permanent-ware before throwing out the dining room trash.
  • Distribute condiments, cutlery and accessories from behind the counter instead of offering them as self-serve.
  • Use serving containers that fit the size of the portion size of your menu items.
  • Minimize the use of unnecessary extra packaging (double wrapping double bagging, etc.) of take-out food.
  • Use less packaging for eat-in foods than for food being taken out, or use none at all.



  • Set-up a rendering service for your waste grease, fat, or used cooking oil.
  • Set up a cardboard and/or glass recycling program with one of your local collectors.
  • Place a recycling bin in the bus station for your customers’ empty beverage containers, if you have to serve beverages in cans and bottles.
  • Donate empty plastic pails and buckets to schools, nurseries or churches, give them away or sell to your customers.
  • Donate old uniforms to thrift shops.

 Landfill Food Waste

Remember: Every little change helps and impacts our environment positively in the long run!

Source: (2014, March 20). Re: Restaurant Guide to Waste Reduction and Recycling, California Integrated Waste Management Board, retrieved from

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