Why Go Green?
There are many reasons why greening a food service establishment is beneficial. Even though some of the new practices that business owners can choose to implement may have start-up costs that seem high, these actually turn out to save you money in the long run because your business will be using less energy and wasting less products. Having a business that is more environmentally-friendly can also get a business a great deal of publicity, which will in turn expand your client base. Involving your employees in the process can also increase their productivity and awareness of this issue as well. The practice of being green is expanding rapidly, and there are tax incentives being implemented for businesses that make being green a priority.

Energy Usage

In the United States, electricity use in restaurants accounts of 1/3 of all the electricity used in retail establishments. Energy is the third-largest expense for a restaurant, and it is one that is beaten only by food and labor.
According to an organization called Green Restaurants, energy usage in a food service establishment is divided up as follows:
  • 35% on cooking appliances
  • 28% on heating and cooling mechanisms
  • 18% on dishwashing equipment
  • 13% on lighting and related fixtures
  • 6% on refrigeration.
There are many ways to cut down on each of these expenses, and most of them are fairly easy to do.
  • Running exhaust systems at lower fan speeds can still accomplish the work that a system running at a regular speed will do, but at less expense to both the owner and the energy source.
  • Keeping things clean helps because the cleaner a grill, or any kind of cooking equipment is, the less hard it has to work to accomplish its purpose.
If a business was looking to be a bit more committed to saving energy and money, there are ways to do that as well. The EPA has established a rating system for a line of Energy Star appliances in four areas of commercial cooking, which are fryers, hot food holding areas, and refrigerators/freezers, and steam cookers. Depending on the appliance, the user could reduce their electric bill by up to 40% simply by upgrading their appliances to more energy-efficient alternatives. Also along these lines is making the switch to a convection oven, which uses far less energy than its traditional gas counterpart.
Dishwashers are another use of a great deal of energy in a food service establishment, and there are several ways to reduce these costs as well.
  • Something simple that can be done is installing low-flow valves on sprayers. These valves only cost a few dollars, and can lead to hundreds of dollars per year in savings.
  • Checking the temperature that a dishwasher is operating at and reducing it a bit, if possible, can also save energy. Restaurants should make sure that they are not operating their machinery at a much higher level than health codes call for, and there are many new sanitizers on the market today that make washing dishes at excessively high temperatures unnecessary.
  • Also, a dishwasher should only be run when it is full because the amount of energy it will use is the same no matter how many dishes it contains.
Another way to save money is to install a wall-mounted tankless water heater. These eliminate excess energy costs because you no longer have to pay to hold hot water. While a traditional tank water heater is about 40% efficient, a tankless one will run at about 80% efficiency. The reason for this difference is that no energy is spent holding the water at a certain temperature, and so there will not be any costs for heat loss with a system such as this. When installed and used correctly, they are able to meet the demand of hot water that the establishment needs.
Refrigeration plays a big part in the energy use in a restaurant, and along with this goes the making of ice, which is a very important commodity. Again, keeping these machines clean, in particular the evaporator and condenser coils, will make them not have to work as hard to accomplish their purpose, in turn saving energy and money. There are also Energy Star ratings for refrigerators and freezers. You can compare the ratings of these with the ones you may have now by checking the equipment spec sheets, which come standard with purchase. Maintaining seals in this type of equipment is essential as well. If a seal is not functioning properly and is letting warm air into the unit, the machine will have to work that much harder to reduce its temperature back to what it should be.
There is also an independent organization called the Food Service Technology Center. This organization runs their own tests of various systems and appliances, and has a good reputation among the food service industry. Their website has a great deal of good ideas and resources, and you can find it at: http://www.fishnick.com.
Maintaining temperature is also a large expense for restaurants, and there are various ways in which it can be controlled.
  • One of the easiest things to do is to program the thermostats to operate at lower levels when the building is not occupied. Each one degree adjustment can results in a 5% savings on an energy bill. Programming a thermostat to run at a lower rate when the building is not occupied, and then to run at its operating temperature closer to the time when the business will be open is a very efficient operating practice.
  • Establishing a "zone" system of heating and cooling the kitchen separately from the rest of the building will save money as well.
  • Installing ceiling fans, particularly in buildings with high ceilings, can provide a very efficient way of circulating air.
Lighting is another major energy concern in restaurant operation.
  • Installing light-sensitive dimmers is a very energy-efficient practice. With these dimmers, lights indoors will automatically dim when the sunlight outside is enough to compensate for this difference.
  • There are also many rooms in a restaurant that are not always occupied, for example, restrooms and storage areas. Installing occupancy sensors in these rooms will cut energy costs because the lights will automatically be go out when the room is no longer occupied.
  • Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs can also help a great deal because incandescent bulbs cost about four times more than compact fluorescents, and they also have about one-fourth the lifespan.

Take-out Containers

Every restaurant has them, and some of them are much better than others. Read this section to see how products that you use compare to others on the market today. There are many new innovative containers being created regularly.


What most of us know as Styrofoam is actually a product called polystyrene. It is made from the styrene monomer, which has a chemical formula of C8H8. Styrene was first used in the late 19th century by a German pharmacist who scraped gum resin from a tree and left it out to allow the sun to reduce it, and the resulting product is what we now call styrene. It was first created in a laboratory setting in 1869 by M. Berthelot. Styrene was developed more in the early 20th century, especially during the 1920's when it was brought up as something that could be involved in the creation of rubber. A few decades later, styrene was an extremely desired product because it had proven to be versatile.
However, styrene has proven to be a substance that has negative affects on those involved in its production process, in particular. Short-term exposure to styrene has been known to cause irritation of the eyes and skin, as well as intestinal problems. Long-term exposure has some much more serious side effects, including fatigue, headache, and impairment of kidney function. In fact, the National Toxicology Program included styrene in its 2011 Report on Carcinogens. Despite this new information that styrene is linked to cancer, manufacturers continue to defend it and note that it still meets the standards set by the FDA for substances that are allowed to hold or package food.
Environmentally, styrene or "Styrofoam" poses a huge problem. It is not biodegradable, nor is it possible to recycle it, despite claims made by manufacturers. The process of making it alone is dangerous, as it creates large amounts of waste. A report released by the EPA in 1986 stated that styrene production was the 5th largest producer of hazardous waste. Some areas have banned styrofoam, and more are working on similar legislation. With so many alternatives available, styrene should no longer be considered a responsible product to purchase.

Alternative Takeout Containers

Traditionally, food was packaged in either styrene or plastic containers. Plastic is preferable to styrene, but barely so. It is made of petroleum, which is an unsustainable resource that is currently in short supply. Many alternatives to these traditional ways of holding food are coming to light, and they have proven to be much more environmentally responsible.
  • Paper bags and cardboard boxes are alternative containers, but there are drawbacks to using them. Depending on your city, food-soiled paper products may not be able to be recycled. Also, both of these products are frequently dyed or bleached, which can result in chemicals being released into the environment.
There are still alternatives that have less drawbacks.
  • Aluminum foil is great for wrapping takeout food because it can be recycled. It is melted, re-casted, and used again. I was even able to find a company that releases a line of recycled aluminum foil. Even if aluminum foil isn't recycled, it will eventually break down into aluminum oxide without releasing any dangerous by-products into the environment.

Beyond all of these options, anything that can be re-used is the best choice that a consumer can make, like tupperware containers or grocery bags.

Another alternative to plastic containers is a series of containers made from various agricultural products, and they are mainly composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. These products are used as an alternative to those made from fossil fuels, and are made from carbohydrates.
  • There are many lines of these food-based products, such as Spudware, which is a company that makes flatware from potato by-products.
  • Bagasse makes plates from sugarcane fiber, and there are many companies that make corn-based takeout containers that are insulated enough to hold hot oil from a fryer without issue. This is more than an appropriate match for styrene containers, and they are completely compostable and biodegradable.


According to a study done by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, the waste from a food service establishment is about 76% organic, which means it can be recycled. Composting is one excellent way to accomplish this. Composting is the process of organic material breaking down into a simpler form. This material is then mixed with green waste, and the finished product is a nutrient-filled soil which can then be used to grow crops. The entire process takes about 3 months. Composting can even be done in a city because there are companies that will come pick it up, some as often as six days a week, from your business.
Materials that are composted are divided into two categories.
  • Materials that are green and moist are generally high in nitrogen. Some materials that would fall into this category include vegetables peels, coffee grounds, or lawn clippings. Materials that are brown and dry are usually high in carbon.
  • Materials that are high in carbon include wood chips, scrap paper, newspaper, cardboard, and leaves.
  • Oxygen is an element that is essential to the decomposition that is composting as well. During this process, oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is produced.
Many people think that only food scraps can be composted, but the list is much longer than that. Paper products can be composted, including cardboard and even matches. Paper towels and tissues can be composted as well. Even things like cotton balls (as long as they are 100% cotton) and tea bags can be composted. The list goes on, there is a great list at this website:

Restaurants that do not already have a recycling program in place should seriously consider doing so. There are many local regulations in cities like San Diego that mandate recycling in restaurants and bars, especially recycling of beverage containers. Putting such a program into place is fairly easy, and there are many companies or programs in cities that will remove the containers for you and bring them to a local recycling center.
There are a few steps involved in implementing a program like this, but all are fairly easy and very beneficial.
  • The first step is educating staff on what can and cannot be recycled, and the proper places for materials. Containers should always be labelled or color-coded, and they should also always be by trash cans to make the process more convenient.
  • Another benefit to recycling is that is significantly reduces the amount of waste put out by an establishment.
  • Another way to reduce waste is simply to re-use. Instead of recycling containers that originally held things like condiments or pickles, wash them and use them to hold food that has already been prepared. As long as everything is labelled and rotated to ensure that no product goes bad, this is an excellent way to reduce the amount of waste put out by a restaurant.

There are many great resources out there on this subject that you can consult if you have further inquiries. I have some links posted below.

Works Cited

City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Public Works: Department of Sanitation. "Food Waste Recycling in Restaurants." 6 Oct. 2011.

Culinary Musings. "Hot Restaurant Trends: Green, Earth-Friendly Practices." Designed by Culinary Musings. 6 Oct. 2011.

Dinardo, Kelly for USA Today. "Companies Remove Restaurant's Food Waste by Composting It." USA Today. 22 April 2011, Accessed 6 Oct. 2011.

Cornell University. "Compost Chemisty." Cornell Composting: Science and Engineering. Accessed 15 Nov. 2011.

The Daily Green. "The Ten Most (and least) Green Take-Out Containers." Accessed 15 Nov. 2011.

Earth Resource Foundation. "Polystyrene Foam Report." Accessed 10 Nov. 2011.

Iwata, Edward for USA Today. "Small businesses take big steps into green practices." Published 7 Dec. 2007. Accessed 12 Nov. 2011. USA Today.

US EPA. "Styrene." Revised January 2000, Accessed 15 Nov. 2011.