Lessons From 3 Zero Waste Pioneers for the Festive Season

The festive season is punctuated by rituals of decadence. With supermarket carts being crammed full and kitchen tables groaning under the weight of food, snapshots of feasting define the holidays. Whilst it’s a time for coming together (fingers crossed), behind the festivities lie a difficult truth: across the globe, our waste levels increase by 25-30% during the festive season (CDEnviro).

aware_ sat down with 3 pioneers of the zero waste movement to understand how we might begin to enjoy the holidays, with the planet in mind. 

Douglas McMaster of Silo 

Douglas McMaster is a trailblazer of the zero waste movement. On a trip to Australia in 2014, McMaster met Joost Bakker: a founding member of the zero waste movement. McMaster’s odyssey into the culinary world began as head chef of Bakker’s Silo: the world’s first waste-free café in Melbourne. Since 2014, McMaster has commandeered Silo in Brighton, and then London (pictured above), upholding a culinary movement defined by principles of respect for the planet and revered for its tasting menu of culinary genius. Operating under the mantra “limitation breeds creativity”, McMaster continues to prioritise a holistic approach to a zero waste ethos – Silo even requires suppliers to send produce in reusable or recycled containers.

Inside the restaurant, dishes are served on plates made from plastic bags and crockery made from smashed wine bottles. In the thick of the pandemic, McMaster launched the Zero Waste Cooking School: a YouTube channel bringing videos on how to make delicious dishes, with no waste. 

aware_: Doug, how did you get involved in the zero waste movement? 

McMaster: The Zero Waste Movement wasn’t a movement back then. It was just myself Joost Bakker, Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson doing it in different ways, collaboration here and there. After the Blue Planet show (David Attenborough) it boomed – then it became a movement. 

Joost was the reason I got into it – he had this crazy idea to ‘not have a bin’ in a restaurant made from waste materials. 

aware_: A tip for keeping down waste during the holidays? 

McMaster: Don’t buy a cut Christmas tree, buy a potted living one. A ‘Douglas Fir’ variety that’s organic (no chemicals). Then turn the pine needles tips into an oil to serve with your Christmas pudding. 

To make the oil: 

300 neutral oil w. 100g pine needles & 60g parsley  

Blend all ingredients until the temperate reached 65-68 degrees, then pass through a very fine sieve or even better a muslin cloth 

FREA by Jasmin Suchy and David Johannes Suchy 

After completing an internship with Douglas McMaster, entrepeneur David Suchy returned to Berlin, inspired to realise a vision: to launch Berlin’s first zero waste, plant-based restaurant. Learning about his unique mission through a blog, Jasmin Suchy – the future other half of FREA – contacted David with her interest in his concept. Together, Jasmin and David launched FREA, the zero-waste restaurant which has dominated the Berlin food scene since its launch. 

Now a cutting-edge establishment, FREA places particular emphasis on regional produce, whilst relentlessly showcasing ways in which plant-based food can flourish in an imaginative environment that encourages experimentation. 

aware_: How did you get involved in the zero waste movement? 

FREA: After working in the catering business for several years, David was tired of all the waste being produced during every catering. He decided to find a solution for that and discovered the zero waste restaurant „Silo“. A friend challenged him that being zero waste also means to reduce the consumption of animal products. The idea of the first plant based zero waste restaurant and catering business was born. 

aware_: A tip for keeping down waste during the holidays?

FREA: Keep down waste during the holidays by swapping, instead of buying, new presents and packing them in newspaper without a plastic wrap. Also, books are a beautiful present for every age, and those you keep forever. 

Vojtech Vegh 

Vojtech Vegh is a Slovakian zero waste chef with a passion for cooking good food. After leaving his home town of Bratislava straight after college, Vegh has spent the last decade travelling the world, cheffing wherever he could find work; from bistros to Michelin starred restaurants, he’s seen it all. In 2018, Vegh opened a zero waste, vegan restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia – a country that suffers from the influx of waste; the city of Phnom Penh alone produces 3,000 tons of waste every day (Khmer Times). The restaurant – whose manifesto included tableware from only recycled materials and furniture only constructed from local, reclaimed wood – served plant-based culinary genius, including a mouthwatering dessert of passion fruit filled with a banana and almond crumble, passionfruit sirup and dragonfruit.  

Since closing the restaurant Vegh went on to write his debut book: Surplus: The Food Waste Guide For Chefs. Labelled by one reader as a “must-have bible”, the book showcases tips and tricks for pursuing a zero waste lifestyle. 

aware_: How did you get involved in the zero waste movement? 

Vegh: I got into the zero waste movement after a few years working in kitchens. I got fed up by the amount of food waste that is created in restaurant’s kitchens every day so I decided to open my own zero-waste restaurant. Ever since then, the only way I cook is zero-waste and plant-based. 

aware_: A tip for keeping down waste during the holidays? 

Vegh: The best tip to keep down your waste during holidays is the most obvious one – don’t buy more than you need. But as we tend to fail at that, the next best thing is to utilize your freezer to the maximum. Pretty much anything can be frozen, and that’s what you should do with all your leftovers if you know you are unable to eat them on time. Don’t be shy to put even fresh vegetables and fruits in freezer as they are still great for smoothies or juicing. Soups and other liquid food is perfect for the freezer, just make sure you label everything so you know what is what! 

By Eliza Edwards

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