Zero waste is in!

(13 /11 /2015)

That’s really not news – we’ve been recycling, up-cycling and turning trash into treasure for years.  But in recent times, the hospitality sector has joined in and has been doing a bloody good job of it too!  But what does “zero waste” actually mean from a business perspective?  What needs to be in place to implement it?  And is it worth it?

So what is “zero waste”?  For some, it’s using every possible part of the food item including skins, stalks and seeds while for others, it’s installing a food compost system that means any produce waste can be composted and then used for growing new produce.  And all the cool kids are doing it!  Jamie Oliver supports the “ugly food movement” in Europe which turns bruised and battered produce into beautiful meals while renowned New York chef, Dan Barber, opened a pop-up restaurant called “Wasted” which created culinary masterpieces from food scraps – it was a huge success.

And Australians are no strangers to the space either…the country’s first zero waste café located in Melbourne, Brothl, was the brain-child of sustainability advocate Joost Bakker who saw an opportunity to use the by-products of other restaurants to create beautiful soups.  But after a 3 year-battle with the Melbourne City Council over the use and placement of the café’s composter, Brothl closed its doors earlier this year.  Joost Bakker now does some work with Dan Barber in New York and is working on new zero waste concepts.

So this really brings me to the guts of this blog…zero waste does seem to be a good solution for reducing landfill and food wastage in the hospitality sector, but just how hard is the transition to a zero waste business and is it worth it?  Machinery obviously plays a big part in the transition – some sort of food composting system is necessary and whether it’s purchased or leased, the financial outlay could be expensive.  You need to ensure you can use the compost system in your premises and that if permits are required, they’re in place before any outlay is made otherwise you might be in a similar situation to Joost Bakker. Staff will need training in using the system and perhaps they may need to change how they currently do things – this will take time and money so that must be taken into consideration. And you also need to consider your customers – are you in a location where the community is into sustainability and supports your vision of zero waste?  There’s no point making the transition if you don’t have customers willing to eat up-cycled food so-to-speak.  And pricing strategy is really important…finding the balance between covering these costs and determining what customers are prepared to pay for food scraps won’t be an easy task so research is a must.

These are just a few of my thoughts – this is not an area I have had much to do with so I’d really love to hear your experiences either as a diner at a zero waste establishment or as a restauranteur who has given this a go.  What worked?  What didn’t?  And was it worth it?  I think zero waste is definitely the way of the future and it won’t be long before most hospitality businesses become more sustainability-focussed.  But I also think it won’t be an easy transition so make sure you do your homework and get everything in place so you don’t have to close your doors.

Even the image we are using today shows how wide spread the concern is:


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