Aiming for zero waste in restaurants

Do you still tell your children: Eat up or there’ll be no pudding? The right attitude to food waste starts at home, of course, but there’s a worldwide movement now that’s determined to tackle what they see as the obscenity of throwing away good food.

The average restaurant produces 70,000 kg of waste a year, so the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York invited chefs from the Helsinki’s Restaurant Nolla to bring their zero waste food philosophy to Manhattan with a pop-up restaurant.

Restaurant Nolla’s ethos is “Refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resource, recycle” and the pop-up event was to coincide with the NYCxDesign festival,  New York City’s annual celebration of design which attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees and designers from across the globe.

Say Nolla: “The idea of a zero-waste restaurant was born out of our frustration in the wastefulness of the restaurant industry. We strongly believe that the contemporary waste management practices of the industry are outdated, and we want to do something about it.

“This is why we started Restaurant Nolla (‘zero’ in Finnish) – the first zero-waste restaurant in the Nordic countries. We offer experiences based on the best, local and organic produce, without waste.”

They work directly with local and international producers of organic ingredients to reinvent, reject and control packaging. Collaborating with designers, engineers, architects has allowed them to rethink waste management, as well as water and energy efficiency. They aim to show that tasty, inventive and creative food can work hand in hand with sustainability.

nolla pop up

And they went one step further; the materials used in the pup-up restaurant were from recycled materials. Even the walls are recycled plastic. So simple, so effective: a grand banqueting space made from eco materials.

But it’s happening in the UK as well, in Brighton, where Silo restaurant and bakery was conceived from a desire to innovate the food industry while demonstrating respect: “Respect for the environment, respect for the way our food is generated and respect for the nourishment given to our bodies. This means that we create everything from its whole form cutting out food miles and over-processing whilst preserving nutrients and the integrity of the ingredients in the process.”

Their brewery creates fermented drinks using foraged and intercepted plants, herbs, vegetables and fruit. They have their own flour mill which turns ancient varieties of wheat into flour the original way. They churn their own butter, make their own almond milk, roll their own oats.

And as a designer, the feature that fascinates me most is that their furniture and fittings are created from a desire to re-use. They choose up-cycling before recycling. Furniture is made from materials that would otherwise have been wasted and crafted with innovation to serve function.

“We have plates formed from plastic bags, tables made from industrial floor tiles, work benches crafted from filing cabinet frames and yes, we use jam jars for glasses, but for us this is no gimmick, they are plentiful, multi functional, hard-wearing and the not insubstantial energy that would have been used to re-cycle them is saved.”

So, two examples of innovative ideas which are leading the way to show us how we can do our bit to save the planet. But it needs a concerted effort on the part of many more people. And sure, it starts at home, so eat up, or there’ll be no pudding!

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