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Home > Garbage and Recycling > Recycling At Your Business > Restaurant/Bar  

Recycling At Your Business: Restaurant/Bar

Here are some tips to help your restaurant/bar efficiently dispose of waste and still divert some from the landfill.


Restaurant work is hectic. When you are busy there is no time to think about your garbage. When there are no customers you are busy prepping ingredients, cleaning or any number of other tasks.
Therefore, a recycling system at your facility needs to be a no brainer. One that is easy for the employees to understand and follow. It should also be one that involves the least amount of steps and is integrated with your current work flow.

Step 1: Know what you have.

It is best to know what you have before you start. Look at all of the collection points of your garbage (including the dumpster) and ask yourself:
  • Where is the discarded material generated?

  • Is each location optimal for my employees to perform their tasks efficiently?
  • What kind of garbage is mostly collected at each location (organic, paper, plastic, cardboard)?

  • Can we effectively recycle or compost? Are there services that can come to collect on a regular basis? If so, how do we need to prepare the our waste for pick-up?

Step 2: The receiving door.

Usually the dumpster is located just outside this door. Inside this door tends to be the accumulation point for most of the emptied cardboard boxes discarded in a day. For most restaurants, this is about 30% to 60% of the solid waste stream.
      Many city garbage services will have a cardboard route that will pick-up at your business (many times for free). Most of the time they will also provide a cardboard dumpster. This dumpster can usually be co-located with your garbage dumpster. Even if they charge a small fee, that might be more than offset by the savings you will have from a smaller dumpster and/or fewer pick-ups. Call your provider or visit their web site for details. 
If that does not work, some independent recyclers may be able to put your business on their route. Your garbage service provider may know what businesses do that in your area.
     Services like these may have requirements about removal of tape and staples or flattening or size of the material. Make sure the employees know the requirements.

Step 3: Prep and storage (dry and walk-in) area.

We feel the likely discards from this area are organic (food scraps), paper, tin cans, aluminum cans, foil and some plastic wrap.
      We will write about some of these discards separately, however, if you decide to divert some of these wastes from the dumpster we have a few suggestions. First, whatever you are separating from garbage (tin, organic, aluminum) needs to have it's own receptacle.
     See if you can co-locate the main receptacles and make them equally accessible to the prep workers.
Clearly label so all can see, the use of each container. Tall thin containers may work a little better than stacking for this location.
     For the organic receptacle, consider the use of a biodegradable garbage bag (see our Amazon.com store) as the can liner. This way the material and bag can be taken out as one package. Since all garbage is likely taken out every day, the bag will not have much of a chance to break down prior to disposal.

Step 4: Dishwashing station.

Usually the dishwasher is dealing with two types of waste. Solid and liquid.
     Liquid: Since many cities base sewer rates on water consumption, using high pressure low flow pre-rinse spray nozzles can reduce cost (and water waste). EnergyStar's requirement for these  pre-rinse nozzles is that it is rated at 1.6 gallons/minute (at 60psi) or less. Some water, electric or gas utilities will have rebates for these nozzles. For examples of these low flow nozzles visit our Amazon.com store. Also, make sure leaks are fixed right away.
     Every city discourages disposal of fats, oils and grease through the sewer system. We suggest you make accommodations for that at the dishwashing station and in other areas of your restaurant.
Solid: Here, we assume that most wastes will be organic material. However the station may receive a little bit of everything. We ask that you consider starting simply, by separating organic from the rest. Then later, accommodating aluminum cans, and so on. The discard containers should be co-located and fit the amount of waste for the shift (or day). Therefore, we suggest tall and skinny rather than stackable containers.
     You may want to make changes to other areas of the restaurant so that the dishwasher seldom receives aluminum, tin cans, paper and other garbage that is not organic. That would make the separation task easier at this station.

Step 5: The kitchen.

Solid, liquid and airborne wastes.
     Airborne. Above the grill, most restaurants will have a ventilation system for the airborne organic material. There may be no feasible way to recover this material. We are checking on that now.
     Liquid. Consider aerators on sinks for hand washing and repair leaks as they happen. The other liquid wastes are mostly fats, oils and grease (FOG). Most restaurants have a system for fryer oil disposal. However, those small amounts when cooking bacon or steak can add up to a big amount by the end of the day. Consider having a pan near (or on) the grill specifically for FOG. At the end of the day, toss into the garbage or into your organic waste stream (if allowed).
Solid: We suggest you put the waste from the kitchen in two categories at first. "Organic" and "Other garbage". We suggest you co-locate them and make the "Organic" bigger than "other garbage". Again, tall and skinny(ish) would probably work better than stackable. Clear labeling is a good idea as well. If you use a biodegradable liner on the "Organic" receptacle, be aware, food at higher temperatures may cause premature break down of these bags.
     You may decide you want to separate your wastes even more (aluminum, paper, etc) in the kitchen area. This can be dictated by your circumstances. 

Step 6: Wait station.

Usually, this area has the bus carts, coffee makers, spare table condiments, place settings and cleaning supplies. Often, this is a small alcove with little space. Generally, there is no room to put anything extra into it.
     This is the area where most of the discards from the tables end up. Also, there is usually a stationary small garbage can somewhere on the floor space of the wait station.
     We suggest a system that should add no or little time to the labor of throwing away the discards from the table. This will depend heavily on what is allowed in the organic waste stream. If you are allowed to put all organic wastes in, just line the can with a Biobag and take it out as one unit.
If separating organic wastes:
This would be the most difficult thing to do in a busy restaurant. This means that you are separating meat, dairy and F.O.G. from the rest of the organic stream. This may include salad dressings, parts of steak, yogurt, sausage and so on.
     We suggest you start simple. Have a small container for the used coffee and filter. This container can be emptied into an organic container at the end of the day. From there, the wait staff could add other things that are allowed. Some other things they could add could be tea bags, newspapers, unused receipts, napkins, small amounts of vegetables and so on.

Step 7: The dining area (or bar).

This is where main work product of a restaurant is showcased and consumed. In some dining areas, the customers bus their table and others are full service. Either way, when the customers are finished what can be done with the left over materials?

     Multi-use items are items that are used over and over again. Things like cloth napkins, drinking glasses, ceramic dishes, metal utensils, Ketchup bottles and more. We assume you have a system of cleaning these things. However, we suggest that you have a place for these items at the end of their life. In other words, if an item breaks, do you have a place for this stuff to go? Remember, some of these things may not go in to common recycling (e.g. drinking glasses are not always the same as container glass).

     Single use items are items that are only intended to be used once. They include paper napkins, plastic utensils, drinking cups, condiment packages and more. Consider finding reusable or decomposable alternatives. Plastic may be cheap packaging material but you will be surprised how the prices and technology are changing. Seattle is one example of a city that insists on single use items to be compostable. The composter to most restaurants there is Cedar Grove. The products they recommend have been tested at their facility.
Left over food can be a little more complicated. If composting or a service is picking up compostable material, what they pick up will depend on the composting process.
     If the composting process is aerobic, then, in general, they will not take meat, dairy or F.O.G. Examples of this are things like salad dressing, meat sandwiches, milk in cereal and so on. An anaerobic composting process will generally take anything organic. Most commercial composting facilities will be a hybrid of anaerobic and aerobic.

     Customer garbage cans are also something you provide to patrons. Usually, it is easy enough to insist that your employees recycle and segregate garbage but what about your customers? It may be easier than you think. We suggest you start simple.
     See if you can have a "recycle center" located next to the regular garbage for customers. Perhaps a stackable set of bins or a side by side type. The main key is to have good signage. These signs should have large print, pictures and words where people will be looking. You may even want to make the containers see-through so that people see what type of waste is in the bins. 
     These are just some ideas to get you started. Your program will progress as you work with your customers.

Step 8: The Bathrooms.

Many customers will not come back to a restaurant based on what they see in the bathroom. Surfaces need to be clean, the plumbing needs to be working and paper supplies need to be well stocked. Likewise, the garbage area should be well organized.

     Liquid wastes include sink and toilet water. To reduce the amount of water used consider putting aerators on the sinks. Most people will be OK with 0.5 gallon a minute flow while washing hands. Also, consider having a dual flush system on the toilets. Older toilets consume 3.5 gallons per flush while newer ones consume less than 2.0 gallons per flush. In cities that have a high water cost, your return on investment for replacing toilets can be a few months. For more information, please, look at our section on toilets.
     Many businesses have a sensor built into the faucet so that the water is only on when your hands are in the sink. The tradeoff between the water conserved verses the extra power used in a system like this will depend on your rates for each and how the bathroom is used. In general, having aerators is a simple and cheap start. 
Solid wastes that do not go down the toilet also have to leave the bathroom. Usually, more than 95% of this waste is paper towels. 
     Consider having a waste can specifically for paper towels. Next to it, there should be a small can for regular garbage. Again, have good signage (with pictures) for each.
     What do you do with the paper waste? You basically have two options (not recycling). You could burn them or compost them. If burning, check the local codes to see if it is allowed. If composting, the paper would go in with the rest of the materials you compost.
     If burning, we suggest, the garbage liners be paper. This could be grocery bags or specially made paper garbage bags. If composting, the liners could be paper or biobags.

Step 9: The Outside.

Landscaping, irrigation and litter are all disposal concerns of most restaurants. Many will contract the work out to local landscapers.

Irrigation: Sprinklers are usually set up on a timer and come on at a particular time of day. We suggest that time is when the restaurant is closed but employees will likely be there. This way, if there is a sprinkler malfunction it will be noticed by an employee. A malfunction can waste a lot of water and money. If you have good landscapers, they will come in and fix your problem right away. However, we encourage you to train at least 1 employee how to fix sprinklers. It will not cost a lot of money or space to keep a shovel and spare sprinklers on the grounds.
Landscaping includes patches of lawn, water features, potted plants and more. If you have a landscaper, find out where the waste is going. Most will take yard waste to a special landfill that composts or has a use for that material. 
    If they mow a patch of grass, consider instructing them to mulch the lawn instead of bagging. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not cause thatch and it will put nutrients back into the lawn (check out our section on composting for more information).

Litter is a tough thing to try to recycle because it can be just about anything spread over a large area. If you have an employee do a sweep of the outside litter, consider having a 2 compartment receptacle for him/her to carry. One compartment for trash, the other for recyclables. The recycle compartment does not have to be for everything you recycle.

Step 10: The end of the road.

Congratulations! You have made your restaurant a "low" or "zero" landfill contributor. Now what?
     Periodically review: Things change and your waste program may need to change over time. Periodically review your program to see if it is the most efficient way of processing your discards.
     Tell your customers: Many of your customers may appreciate going to eat at a place that shares their passion for living a more green life. They may even choose your restaurant over others because of these changes. Consider including mention of your green practices within your advertizing. You may also want to put up signage at your store telling the customers your green practices.

Consider having your restaurant listed on green business directories. Some of these listings require a fee to be listed but it may be well worth it.
  • Save money on disposal fees.
  • Happy customers knowing their waste will not take up space in the landfill.
  • Create new products from waste.

Some helpful links:




Our recommendations by business types.
  • Restaurant/Bar
  • Hotel
  • Office Building
  • Church
  • Venue/Conference Halls
  • School


Items in our "Waste and Recycling" section.

  • Recycle Centers:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Composters:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Vermicomposters:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Garbage Bags:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Recycle Kits:
    Home Recycling ________________