Have you been to a zero waste restaurant? There are restaurants that are awfully wasteful, but zero-waste can be impressively green.

In an era of growing environmental awareness, zero waste restaurants have emerged as a new trend in the culinary world. They focus on reducing, reusing and recycling their collective resources. Zero-waste ideas and practices also encourage a circular economy, which is sustainable and improves profits.

Over the past two years, the covid pandemic, climate change, and the conflict in Ukraine have disrupted our global food system, leaving millions of people in a state of food insecurity. According to the 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report (SOFI), the number of people affected by hunger worldwide reached 828 million in 2021. 

Simultaneously, around 14% of the world’s food is lost between harvest and reaching retail stores, while an additional 17% is wasted in the retail and consumer sectors. 

However, this situation has become better because of the rise of zero-waste restaurants. A study conducted by Champions 12.3 suggests that the average restaurant saves $7 for every $1 spent on reducing food waste in the kitchen.

Mottle Cafe, a restaurant located in Guangzhou, China, has been gradually transforming into a zero-waste restaurant since 2022. Mottle Cafe utilises ‘food waste’ to create dishes, with a focus on predominantly vegetarian options. 

Mottle Cafe

Terri, the owner of Mottle Cafe, said: “The idea of utilising ‘food waste’ emerged in our mind after the first wave of the covid pandemic. 

“During that time, many restaurants faced a surplus of close-to-expiry inventory. Finding ways to quickly consume this inventory became a top priority upon resuming operations, which led to the initial idea of utilising food waste. “

“After that, with each unexpected wave of the pandemic, our restaurants had to explore methods to extend the shelf life of vegetables and fruits, reduce costs, and maximise the utilisation of what would otherwise be considered waste. These endeavours have since become part of the daily operations in our restaurant.”

Mottle Cafe there has been using vegetable trimmings to make vegetable stock since the early days of the restaurant’s opening. With a good start, it is easier for the chefs to have unstoppable inspirations to create dishes by using ‘food waste’. 

Terri said: “After the first wave of the pandemic, we had a box of near-expiry cream, and in order to quickly consume this ‘near-expiry kitchen waste’, we made fermented butter. We paired it with locally produced soybean sauce from Guangzhou, which gave us an unexpected surprise. ” 

local soybean sauce/fermented butter/baguette

“We noticed that the reheated and frothed milk cannot be reused to make milk coffee, so we collected and utilised it to create milk crisps. Additionally, through the process of extraction, condensed milk is obtained, which adds more flavour to our ginger milk custard ice cream.”

milk crisps with ginger milk custard ice cream

“We also use the central part of the watermelon to create a ‘tuna’ salad, where marinated watermelon replaces tuna, making it a purely vegan salad. The leftover pieces are used to make watermelon smoothies and coffee blends, while the eater rind is transformed into candied treats.”

‘tuna’ salad
candied watermelon rind

“We use tomato clarification liquid to create gelatin, which the leftover tomato pulp is transformed into tomato crisps. The tomato skins are processed into tomato powder, adding a complete tomato element to dishes like tomato salad.”

tomato salad

Terri believes that many restaurants are striving to achieve zero waste. 

She said: “We are definitely not alone, and there is still much to learn.”

Overall, with the increasingly severe issue of resource scarcity on earth, similar to vegetarianism, low carbon and environmentally friendly practices, including zero waste, are undoubtedly the future trend. This applies not only to the food industry but also to all sectors and households, from large-scale enterprises to individual households.