It’s no secret that eating out produces a ton of waste. The restaurant industry loses around $162 billion annually in food waste costs, and that’s just for the edible stuff. Add onto that containers the food comes in, packaging for delivery orders, and paper for receipts, and there’s a whole lot of trash being generated every day by millions of restaurants around the country.
We’ve seen various efforts put towards fighting this growing mountain of trash — bans on plastic straws and disposable cutlery, for example — but one New York restaurant is taking the battle to a new extreme. Mettā, in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, is reopening in the fall as New York’s first zero-waste restaurant, and it could provide an important road map for restaurants in the future.
Grubstreet profiled the restaurant earlier this week and found that zero waste in this context applies to everything about the business. The restaurant, which was already carbon-neutral, sources ingredients that come in compostable or reusable packaging, uses electrolyzed water that “eliminates” the need for dish soap, and composts any food scraps left on customers’ plates. Even the cheese rinds are upcycled.
Mettā is one of a handful of restaurants around the world pushing the zero-waste, trash-free business model. Silo, in the UK, is another notable example. Meanwhile, in Sweden, a project called Restauranglabbet is using a combination of tech, science, academic research, and design to create a waste-free restaurant of the future. Other establishments here and abroad are experimenting with ways to do zero-waste cooking, using all parts of the plant and sourcing ingredients locally.
If it all sounds terribly expensive, it is. For example, Mettā works with a New Jersey-based company called TerraCycle, who does curbside pickup for hard-to-recycle items like cooking oil and batteries. According to the Grubstreet article, Mettā will have two boxes for TerraCycle — each at $800 a pop.
It’s also terribly necessary that restaurants like these exist. While the concept might today be unattainable for most businesses, this wildly expensive and rather inconvenient model for a restaurant could actually pave the way for more affordable solutions in the future — ones that other restaurants could incorporate into their own operations.
It’s not unlike Tesla. The company’s high-performance, all-electric cars have historically come with a price tag that’s out of the question for most buyers, due in part to the vehicles’ high-tech design and expensive components like batteries. But by getting those who could afford the cars to cough up the cash, Tesla created a demand for this sort of vehicle that’s having a ripple effect on the auto industry. Automakers once reluctant to dabble in the world of all-electric vehicles are now coming to market with their own offerings. Meanwhile, the demand Tesla created eventually enabled the company make a more affordable (albeit still expensive) model whose components could be easier cheaper for other carmakers to iterate on.
When it comes to restaurants, your average mom-and-pop joint will probably not be able to pay $800 to recycle its cooking oil, but the mere fact that such an option exists for restaurants could lead to some company eventually coming to market with a cheaper solution. In the meantime, Mettā, Silo, and others also have more-affordable components of their operations that could be implemented by others now, like digital receipts and compostable packaging.
We’re not going to see restaurants like Mettā opening en masse any time soon. But the hope is that we’ll see some of the elements they introduce make their way into other restaurants and help move the industry towards a more sustainable way of doing business.