Grocery operations are regulated by multiple agencies, including: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), State environmental agencies, and even potentially the Local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW).
A potentially significant environmental issue from retail grocery is waste food and food packaging, which is considered municipal solid waste. Food waste is generally regulated at state and local levels. Some states and municipalities require businesses and institutions that generate large amounts of food waste to compost the waste rather than to send it to landfills. The decompostion of food waste in landfills releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. There may also be local and municipal ordinances restricting the use of polystyrene containers. For more information on retail food service environmental compliance, visit the CRC Food Service & Prepared Foods page.
Refrigeration, air conditioning, and refrigerated transportation use refrigerants that may contain chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) or a common subclass, hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), which are ozone depleting substances (ODS). However, from January 1 2017, to January 1, 2019, EPA is phasing in changes the refrigerant management regulations, and one of the significant changes is that the refrigerants being regulated will expand to ODSs and any substitutes for ODS refrigerants. To control emissions of these substances, the Clean Air Act has re gulatory requirements that apply to retailers who have large refrigerators/freezers, air conditioning units, or refrigerated transportation. Anhydrous ammonia is another common refrigerant used in some large cold storage facilities and subject to regulation by EPA's emergency notification laws and OSHA. For more information visit the CRC Air page. Emergency generators are also regulated to control air emissions, and are covered on the CRC Air page.
Many household products sold in retail grocery stores may need to be handled as hazardous or universal waste when returned, expired, recalled, or damaged. Hazardous waste items can be found in several product categories, including aerosol sprays, hair dyes, detergents, cosmetics, fragrances and perfumes, and cleaners. Universal waste items include certain types of batteries, light bulbs, mercury containing devices (e.g., thermometers), and certain recalled pesticides. Some states may allow additional wastes to be handled as universal wastes, such as aerosols or electronics. Improper disposal of these products such as pouring them down the drain, on the ground, in storm drains, or disposing of them in the trash can be potentially dangerous and may be illegal. You should perform a hazardous waste determination before disposal of any waste and check your state environmental regulations to ensure compliance with requirements for hazardous waste and universal waste. For more information, visit the CRC Hazardous Waste page, and the Consumer Products (Cleaning, Chemicals, Health & Beauty) page.
State and local governments have the primary regulatory authority over solid waste or non-hazardous trash from retail businesses. Many jurisdictions ban businesses from sending certain types of material to landfills, such as recyclables and electronic waste. The bans are often designed to encourage recycling as well as to keep hazardous material out of landfills. States may also have bottle deposit laws. For more information on solid waste, visit CRC's Other Regulated Waste page.
When washing food displays and fixtures, drain disposal of chemicals, grease, and other contaminants should be minimized to avoid disruption to the POTW. Prior to discharging to the POTW, check to see if you must register with the POTW, obtain a pretreatment permit, or perform regular monitoring or reporting. An important issue in food preparation is the handling of fats, oils, and grease (FOG). FOG in wastewater negatively impacts wastewater collection and treatment systems, and can cause blockages that can lead to sewage spills and backups. Visit the CRC Water and Food Service pages for more information.
Some products sold in grocery stores have special environmental concerns or contain potentially harmful ingredients that are regulated by the EPA and other agencies. Compliance issues with these products include bans on some products or ingredients, labeling requirements, and performance standards. Products that fall into this category include pesticides and Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emitting products. Additional requirements may apply to private label products. Visit CRC's Product Compliance and Toxics Management page for more information.
EPA's voluntary Food Recovery Challenge works with facilities to reduce the environmental impacts of waste food and includes resources on how to reduce food waste and Sustainable Food Management.
The majority of materials used in food packaging can all be recycled. The Institute of Food Technologists has a list of the environmental impacts from food packaging.
There is a movement to replace cleaning products and chemicals with less hazardous alternatives. The EPA's Safer Choice program (formerly Design for the Environment) identifies products that are less hazardous. California has their own Safer Consumer Products regulation designed to reduce the hazardousness of products. There are also other standards such as Green Seal, USDA Organic, and USDA Biopreferred products. Selling less hazardous products can also enhance a company's brand.
Product stewardship is a product-centered approach to environmental protection. Product stewardship calls on those in the product life cycle—manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers—to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products. Retailers play a role in this initiative by offering and educating consumers on environmentally preferable or "green" products and facilitating consumer return of products for recycling or reuse.