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Kick your trash dependency: Recycle

If you're like most restaurateurs, you try to find ways to head off waste before waste even gets created. But when that's not possible, more restaurants are looking at recycling.

NRA research shows that 60 percent of restaurateurs are recycling at least some of their waste. In fact, 39 percent of restaurant operators we surveyed in 2013 reported recycling plastic, cans or glass while 66 percent reported recycling cardboard or paper. Another 61 percent reported purchasing products made from recycled materials.

Recycling has benefits across the board:

  • transforms waste into renewable resources
  • diverts material from landfills
  • cuts back the raw materials, energy and water needed to manufacture new products
  • can reduce restaurant waste-hauling charges.

Even if you can’t tackle everything at once, you can start by recycling the material that takes up about 25 percent of your dumpster—cardboard. Learn more with 7 steps to successful cardboard recycling.

Here are some helpful resources as you ramp up recycling efforts:

Video: Recycle

Tips for recycling different materials

Material Type Tip to Recycle
Batteries Call 1-800-8BATTERY for information
  • Wet cardboard cannot be recycled, but it can be composted.
  • Waxed cardboard cannot be recycled, but it can be composted.
  • Ask your supplier if you can receive items in non-waxed cardboard packaging.
  • If your establishment generates a significant amount of recyclable cardboard, explore options for on-premise bailing, as this may generate revenue.
Electronics (cell phones, TVs, batteries, ink cartridges, computers)

Hazardous waste regulations prohibit disposing computers, televisions, and other electronic equipment in regular trash, therefore:

  • Recycle electronic equipment via an accredited recycler that ensures proper recycling of hazardous components.
  • Consider donating used, operating electronics to organizations that reuse them (you could earn a tax deduction).
  • For more information, see EPA’s eCycling program.
  • Many eCycling service companies offer pick-up services.
Fats, cooking oil, and grease (FOG)
  • Filter fryers consistently to maximize the life of your oil and create a higher quality used grease.
  • Store your used FOG in a designated and labeled container and seal it properly, as moisture devalues used FOG.
  • Ask local purveyors about buying your grease to make biodiesel
Fluorescent light bulbs

Note: these bulbs contain a small amount of mercury and must be handled with care!

  • Learn more at EPA’s CFL page
  • Look into mail-in services and “milk run” pickups for broken or burnt out bulbs
Glass Be sure to sort glass by color (brown, green, clear) before pickup
Metals (aluminum, stainless steel, copper, foil wrap)
  • Aluminum, steel and copper are of high value to salvagers/recyclers.
  • Some metal salvagers will make pick-ups of larger amounts of recyclables, such as retired pots, pans, appliances and scrap metals.
  • Foil wrap can only be recycled when not contaminated with food waste.
  • Identify the types of plastics that are recyclable in your municipality.
  • Typically jugs and bottles are accepted
  • Some areas also recycle plastic bags, film and polystyrene/polyurethane.
Paper products (newspapers, office paper, junk mail, bags, trays)
  • Wet and shredded paper products cannot be recycled, but they can be composted.


More Resources

  • Walking the Talk: Reports from the field: Restaurateurs and suppliers talk sustainability.
  • Watch: Conversations with sustainability innovators.
  • Report: Gauging the Restaurant Industry’s Interest in Sustainability.