During a dinner, the number of bottles of wine on the tables at El Celler de Can Roca was always a proof of the good hours that many of the customers spent there, eating at one of the best restaurants in the world (two times awarded No. 1 by The World's 50 Best Restaurants). But by the end of the day, they were crammed into the bins of the famous restaurant located in Girona, Spain, and destined for some deposit, without much use.
Thinking about all the trash a restaurant can accumulate, the Roca brothers created an initiative, called RocaRecicla to look differently at what they throw away – in one of the most innovative environmental projects in the high-end restaurant industry. An idea was to promote waste reduction by its creative reuse.
More than ever, the gastronomy scene has embraced the zero-waste philosophy, with many chefs creating dishes in which they try to use the maximum of ingredients, avoiding food loss, from Massimo Bottura’s Refettorio to Dan Barber’s wastED project. But now, restaurants and even startups are glimpsing beyond, seeing how waste in the kitchens (and also in the rooms) can help create useful upcycling products with the help of designers.
All the empty glass bottles generated at El Celler de Can Roca are now transformed into the RR100 tableware pieces that can be reused, like cups, trays, ashtrays... The Roca brothers have created a social inclusion workshop so that the bottles gain new users. Every day, the bottles are collected and taken to the glass workshop where workers are responsible for the glass fusing, cutting and polishing. The goal is to recycle one hundred percent of the glass that is consumed in the restaurant, about 40,000 bottles a year.
But the glass bottles were just the beginning: looking at all the material that was wasted in the restaurant, they came up with the idea of transforming the polystyrene containers used by fish vendors to maintain ingredients fresh in furniture, more specifically in the RR200 stools. The honeycomb-shaped seats designed by Andreu Carulla, a Catalan crafted designer, are made by shredding the containers into raw expanded polystyrene (which is notoriously difficult to recycle), and then compacted down in a mould, using injected steam.
All the process is made with the help of a custom-made pedaling machine so that they can limit the use of electricity. The stools are sprayed with eco-friendly paint coating, the result is a highly durable, lightweight stool that weighs less than 2kg.
The new product of RocaRecicla umbrella, however, is an apron made with the plastic bags used for vacuum cooking – a technique that has been perfected by Joan Roca over the last few years in El Celler’s kitchen. After washing, the plastic is sewn with sturdy stitching and turned into aprons that can be purchased in the restaurant or at RocaRecicla website - like all other products of the line.
Tableware from food waste
But it's not just chefs and haute cuisine professionals who are eyeing this movement. Kosuke Araki is a Tokyo-based designer that has created a tableware series all made from recycled food waste. Called Anima, his collection features bowls, plates, and cups, using carbonized vegetable waste. Ashes of vegetables and woods have been used in ceramics for ages, but his work differs from the other pieces by privileging the waste.
“I am handmaking the tableware by moulding the mixture of powdered food waste and Urushi, Japanese lacquer. It is crucial to give it practical strength as well as cherishable quality", Araki says. His work takes into account all the natural cycle, by focusing at the end of the chain.
Araki has been fighting food waste for a while. This project is rooted in his graduation project. "For the project, I chose food waste to work with, and since then I have become aware of how much food is wasted on a daily basis", he explains.
Akari has also developed new pieces (cups for tea and coffee) on the occasion of the current Triennale in Milan, for which his work was selected by curator Paola Antonelli. His project is also going to be presented in an exhibition held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, for the exhibit ‘Food: Bigger than the Plate,’ starting in May. Though the pieces are relatively expensive as regular tableware, which is due to manual production and its material, they are not in restaurants yet, but it opens a way for the food waste come back to the dishes - literally.
From trash to fash...ion
On the other side of the food chain, startup Circular Systems is converting food waste into wearable fibers to provide for the fashion industry. Because of their technology, it's now possible to wear your food waste. They use crop waste like banana peels, pineapple leaves, flax and hemp stalk oil for natural and low-cost fibers that can be woven into garments.
“Regenerative production of low-cost, and highly scalable bio-materials. Entirely from food-crop waste!”, they claim on their website. The BioFibre uses crop residues as valuable resources, rather than “waste”. “Turning ‘problem’ into solution”, as they explain.
The company works with global brands like H&M and Levi’s and was awarded a 350,000 dollars Global Change Award grant from the H&M Foundation to scale up its operations. The startup can create 250M tons of natural fiber annually while reducing crop burn pollution and methane emissions. Proof that food waste is more useful than only composting.