This area covers grocery store operations, which include the sale of food products, fresh produce, meat, deli, household cleaning supplies, health and beauty products, and other household products. The primary compliance areas include waste (waste food, hazardous waste, solid waste, recycling, and wastewater) and air emissions. Store operations such as cleaning, maintenance, and refrigerant management are covered in the RCC Store Operations page


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).  

Waste Food and Food Packaging Requirements 

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. One reason for this is that decomposing food and organic waste in landfills releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The RCC Mandatory Organics Recycling Fact Sheet has more information on state programs, particularly California. 

There may also be local and municipal ordinances restricting the use of polystyrene containers.  

The RCC Other Regulated Waste page has more information on different waste types that may be generated at grocery stores. 

Air Emissions and Refrigerants 

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, recent changes to the regulations are expanding ODSs and any substitutes for ODS refrigerants.  To control emissions of these substances, the Clean Air Act has regulatory 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. The RCC Refrigerant Fact Sheet has more information.  

Emergency generators are also regulated to control air emissions, and are covered on the RCC Emergency Generator Fact Sheet and Matrix of Emergency Generator Permitting options by state. 

Refrigerant Fact Sheet

Informational fact sheet on refrigerants and the regulations surrounding them which include requirements for sales, repairs, and record-keeping.

View Fact Sheet

Hazardous & Universal Waste 

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 RCC Hazardous Waste, and Consumer Products (Cleaning, Chemicals, Health & Beauty) pages. 

Solid Waste Management 

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 RCC's Other Regulated Waste page.  

Wastewater Management 

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 RCC Water page for more information. 

Product Sales 

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 RCC's Product Compliance and Toxics Management page for more information. 


EPA's voluntary Food Recovery Challenge works with facilities to improve their sustainable food management. 

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 toxic chemicals in 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. 

Related Content

Other Regulated Waste

Discusses the storage, transportation, and disposal or recycling of non-hazardous solid wastes such as municipal waste, e-waste, and appliances.

Emergency Generator Fact Sheet

A fact sheet detailing the basics of an emergency generator and the factors impacting regulatory compliance on the generators.

Hazardous Waste Variations by State

Informational matrix detailing the Hazardous Waste Variations by State


Compliance matrix that provides a detailed overview of legislation across the U.S. that requires retailers to manage waste electronic products.

Emergency Generator Permitting Matrix

This matrix contains state permitting options for emergency generators.

Volatile Organic Compounds Matrix

Informational matrix detailing the regulations on Volatile Organic Compounds in different jurisdictions.

  • Air
  • Hazardous Waste
  • Solid Waste
  • Water

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