Rodola’s menus are based on what suppliers can offer.
For the restaurant industry, litter is almost inevitable. The kitchen staff threw the onion skins and fat in the trash. Single-use plastic packaging and paper table runners on tablecloths also end up in the trash. Restaurants order plastic bags in bundles, and customers pack food in these bags and throw it away when they go home.
But Rodola’s approach to trash in Brooklyn, New York, is a little different.
The restaurant’s philosophy is “zero waste”, which means no waste or food waste, not even a traditional trash can. There are some similar restaurants in other cities around the world.
The goal of these restaurants is to make a profit while reducing their impact on the environment and to try to create an eco-friendly image in the minds of customers. This idealistic concept has many challenges in the process of realization. For example, it requires manufacturers and suppliers to provide degradable packaging, and it also needs to consider how to recycle used appliances.
”We’re in the service business,” said Henry Ritchie, co-owner of Rodola’s. “We can’t attribute the waste and carbon footprint to our customers after we’ve created a great night for everyone.”
According to a report released by Food Recycling, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing food waste, U.S. restaurants waste 11.4 million tons of food each year, equivalent to $25.1 billion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that food waste and packaging account for 45 percent of all waste that goes to landfills.
Cooperative bakeries and butchers pack bread, pickles and eggs in reusable plastic boxes and hire cyclists to deliver the goods.
Replace plastic wrap with beeswax wrap.
Any leftover food from customers will be handed over to a composter for processing.
The restaurant uses a professional composter.
The restaurant has ordered bins for hard-to-recycle waste.
”The reason ‘zero waste’ isn’t mainstream in the food and service industry is because we’re just starting to realize it. We’re really wasteful,” says Douglas McMaster. McMaster, a chef who also runs the ‘zero waste’ principle at Slow in London, has advised everyone at Rodola.
Harry Chambers is Deputy General Manager of Oberon Restaurant Group and partner at Rodola Restaurant. It took him and Richie 10 months and $50,000 to complete the “zero-waste” remodel of the Rodola restaurant.
They ditched suppliers of single-use plastic packaging for paper shredders that turn wine crates into compostable material, dishwashers that make soap out of salt, and switched to beeswax packaging instead of plastic. These changes are all about reducing waste.
Ritchie said: “These are not some deep secrets, just some specific practices. All we need is to change the business philosophy.”
In the preparatory stage, they spent a lot of time finding suitable suppliers and manufacturers. For example, a cheese maker agreed to remove plastic packaging before delivery, but the packaging ended up being garbage.
Some companies, such as the bakeries and butchers it works with, can accommodate Rodola’s restaurants, which pack bread, pickles and eggs in reusable plastic boxes and hire cyclists to deliver the goods. The shipping company used compostable packaging and paper tape to deliver canned fish to Rodola Restaurant.
”It’s really new to us,” said Caroline Fidanza, culinary manager for the Marlow Group, which includes the bakery and butcher that supplies Rodola’s restaurants. “Some things are actually doable. In a way, packing food is a lot more troublesome than not packing it,” she added.
In addition to reducing the number of perishable food orders, the restaurant has eliminated the chef role entirely, in part to avoid creating “a hierarchy that could hinder the achievement of ‘zero waste’ goals,” Ritchie said.
The staff at Rodola Restaurant will rotate on a regular basis, rotating between waiters, kitchen staff and other positions. They meet weekly to create menus based on what the vendors have to offer, though cheese and mushroom bisque are the regulars.
”Having a smaller staff is critical so we can be a little more flexible than a typical restaurant,” Chambers said.
Rodola’s menus are all paper, with an introduction to the “zero waste” business philosophy. Outdated or dirty menus are used to make compost. The hut next to the restaurant is equipped with a professional composter, and the leftover food from customers will be handed over to this machine for processing. Also, Rodola doesn’t serve meat because it’s difficult to degrade, though composters occasionally process leftover fish.
Broken glass, wine bottles and other non-degradable containers are handed over to professional recycling companies; the corks are donated to the “Cork Recycle” organization, which turns the corks into shoe soles and yoga blocks.
Dishwasher that can make soap out of salt
There are also cost-cutting considerations behind these restaurants’ efforts to eliminate waste. A survey found that for every dollar the restaurant industry invests in reducing waste, it saves seven dollars in costs. The American Restaurant Association found that half of customers consider restaurant practices around recycling and reducing food waste when choosing where to eat.
Most restaurants have low profit margins, and the benefits of reducing food waste often don’t show up quickly, says Angel Weeza, manager of the restaurant consultancy at First Principles. Many chefs and restaurant managers also don’t have much incentive to reduce waste, let alone order trash cans from Terry Environmental for $800 like Rodola’s. The company turns hard-to-recycle waste, such as chewing gum and plastic packaging, into new items. Rodola Restaurant has also placed a trash can in the bathroom to collect used hygiene products.
”If these restaurants are profitable, there’s no incentive to change,” Wiza said. “They’re not thinking about using single-use plastic at all.”
Although Rodola’s strives to achieve zero-waste goals, it is now approach is not perfect. For example, if the dishwasher is broken and cannot be repaired, how can it be recycled?
“Frankly, we can’t handle all the waste yet,” Richie said. The restaurant’s first wave of compost was used in a mini-garden on the roof of the adjacent cottage, which could become a rooftop farm in the future. Rodola’s cost savings of $300 a month compared to Ritchie’s previous Mehta restaurant, in part because it doesn’t have to pay for trash removal. Even Mehta, which bills itself as carbon-neutral and low-waste, generates nearly 3,200 kilograms of waste each month, Chambers estimates.
”We’re at a critical juncture right now,” Ritchie said. “We want to be able to reach more people through our efforts and help people understand what ‘zero waste’ really is, because it feels really good to not generate waste. .”