Looking for the best zero waste restaurants in the world? A new calibre of eco-friendly venues are raising the sustainability standard in wining and dining, writes Natarsha Brown.
From waste-free menus to in-house composting and blackout dining, these zero waste restaurants are proving that sustainability doesn’t mean compromising on flavour or experience.
Repurposing with style at Sydney’s zero waste bar
Almost any bar in Sydney can mix you up a boozy punch. But what about one mingled with plums and peaches destined for the bin? Now that’s something out of the ordinary. Located in the up-and-coming South Eveleigh precinct, the newly opened Re- is causing a stir. Headed by Matt Whiley of London’s pioneering Scout, Re- is set to be the world’s first permanent zero waste bar.
Ethical consumption is threaded into the fabric of the venue. Milk bottles are the foundation of the mezzanine staircase. Meanwhile, the bar and tabletops are made from Replas recycled bottles and Tupperware. In addition, banquettes are clothed in pineapple-leaf fibre, and light fittings and wine coolers are fashioned from new-age mycelium fungus material. Lastly, there’s only a single general waste bin for use on an average day.
Then there is the menu. At its heart are 12 cocktails, all made using diverted and reclaimed produce – ‘ugly’ fruit, vegetables, herbs and liqueurs. Try the Wimbledon Gimlet, with handpicked damaged strawberries. Or the None the Pfizer, complete with beeswax vodka and repurposed fennel fronds.
“I want to demonstrate that a venue can be built from recycled materials and run with as little impact as possible, and still exist as a fun, world-class experience,” says Whiley.
A revolution in zero waste dining
Re- is one of a small-but-growing number of zero waste restaurants and bars around the world innovating the hospitality sphere. The term ‘zero waste’ has been used loosely in the past, but things are starting to change. There are now several organisations – most notably, TRUE and SCS Zero Waste certifications – giving businesses the official tick of approval.
“Never has this subject been more important. Food waste costs our economy $20 billion a year – more than five million tonnes of food ends up in landfill; one in five bags of groceries winds up in the bin. We have a responsibility to look hard at what we’re not using and find ways to make it desirable,” encourages Whiley.
Not to mention there is an economic incentive. A study by Champions 12.3 reviewed 114 restaurants across 12 countries and found some interesting results. Nearly every site achieved a positive return, with the average restaurant saving $7 for every $1 invested in anti-waste methods.
From table to farm at FREA Berlin
At Berlin’s zero waste restaurant FREA, guests dine on a vegan menu, while waste ends up back with farmers. Customer favourites include potato terrine with portobello mushrooms and parsley root puree. Alongside its regulars, FREA also serves up seasonal creations, like a la tortellini with potato and herb filling, celeriac and pickled shiitake.
Making everything in-house keeps waste to a minimum. This includes the delicious sourdough bread and hazelnut butter, to kombucha and pasta. And, to avoid unnecessary spillage, daily deliveries are standard. Finally, out the back of the restaurant is ‘Gersi’. This turns any leftovers into compost within 24 hours, before delivering them back to supplier farms.
Compostable doggy bags for diners at Nolla
Similarly, at Helsinki’s Nolla, all kitchen throwaways are composted and returned to distributors. However, diners are also welcome to return home with their own scoopful. Other eco-measures include uniforms made from discarded bed linen and biodegradable poppyseed paper gift cards (which customers can plant in their garden after use). Meanwhile, Nolla simply does not accept packaging from wholesalers – the restaurant has no bins.
Occasional ‘blackout dinners’ are a highlight. Nolla creates dishes without electricity on a live-fire grill, while visitors eat by candlelight.
Gro Spiseri’s secret sustainable menus
On the experiential streets of Copenhagen, dinner at Gro Spiseri is a communal affair. The restaurant is located on a 600-square-metre rooftop farm, inside a greenhouse. Gro Spiseri asks diners to prepay for the secret menu, which features six to seven courses of Nordic-inspired ‘family-style’ share plates. This allows them to reduce waste by only making food for the exact number of people dining. The plates are largely from in-house ingredients, including honey from the beehives and eggs from the henhouse. For those seeking a hands-on approach, workshops and cooking classes are available.
Silo leads the way for restaurant recycling
Considered one of the finest zero waste restaurants in the world, London’s Silo only serves a set menu. This eliminates the worry that a particular item won’t sell – and takes prepping back to its roots. Chef Doug McMaster grinds his own flour, churns butter, rolls oats and whips milk. Reusable crates, bags and buckets are used to deliver the produce. And, in contrast to most composting machines that are mechanical, Silo’s ‘Bertha’ uses microbes. These bacterial cultures multiply naturally, akin to yeast – to break down waste.
Interestingly, the team is currently working on a project that moves away from conventional glass recycling. “We want to buy two machines: one that grinds old glass into sand, and one that turns sand into powder. Then, you can use that glass powder to make porcelain. The new method only requires temperatures of around 1400 to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit lower than what you need to melt down glass – so it’s like a mini-revolution, and the most interesting thing I’ve ever worked on,” says McMaster.
Keeping it local at Scotland’s zero waste hideaway
On the shores of Scotland’s remote Loch Fyne, in a former crofter’s cottage with views of Castle Lachlan, is Inver. Chef-owner Pamela Brunton, the woman behind the zero waste hideaway, considers the people, landscapes, plants and animals as one ecosystem.
Brunton makes the most of the bountiful natural larder on her doorstep. This includes organic vegetables from nearby farms to halibut from the Isle of Gigha and naturally fermented local beer. If meat features on the menu, Inver utilises everything, from fat to bones. Meanwhile, discarded oyster and mussel shells are returned to the loch. In addition, the restaurant’s supply of fresh water comes from the surrounding hills. And, of course, everything is composted.
Hyper-local focus at Harbor House
At Michelin-starred Harbor House, along the coast of California’s Mendocino County, chef Matthew Kammerer is devout when it comes to hyper-local and foraged ingredients. All produce is sourced within 80 kilometres of the establishment and picked up by staff on their way to work. Other small but effective touches include menus printed on seed paper and repurposing locally felled trees for decor. There’s also an on-site garden and chicken coup.
Postcard-perfect views of the Pacific Ocean can be gazed at through redwood-clad windows. Meanwhile, the menu offers dishes like black cod with sake kasu and forest nameko mushroom. Or blue hubbard squash with hemp, crème fraîche and eucalyptus.
In the words of Kammerer himself: “Our beautiful setting is our inspiration; places like this are rare and we all need to do our part to keep them this way.”
Lead image: Exceptional zero waste dining at Harbor House, California © Matt Morris
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