Zero Waste Bistro Shares Lessons on How We Can All Reduce Waste

Sustainable Design, Food and Fashion on the Menu at WantedDesign during New York's design week

Results are in, and the recent Zero Waste Bistro (May 19-22, 2018) organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, was a remarkable four-day dining experience considered by many to be one of the top ten must-sees for the citywide two week NYCxDesign event. The designs and ideas presented in the concept event co-curated by designers Harri Koskinen and Linda Bergroth of the received an enthusiastic reception from the local and international design community, environmental advocates and the media and were Instagram and social media superstars. The ten thousand of visitors to WantedDesign Manhattan got a chance to see the exhibition, but a group of particularly lucky guests got to participate in the sold-out tasting sessions, demos and workshops that covered topics like zero-waste fashion, edible building materials, and running a zero-waste restaurant. The ideas on display continue to have a ripple effect beyond NY, as the inspiring lessons the Zero Waste Bistro can be applied to businesses from restaurants to design studios, and on the environment we all share.


Lessons from the Zero Waste Bistro:

FOOD. The food concept at the Zero Waste Bistro came from the chefs at Restaurant Nolla, the first zero waste restaurant in the Nordic region and one of the first zero-waste restaurants in the world. In short, they describe their philosophy as“refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resort, recycle.” In the food they prepared throughout the four-day pop-up and in their presentation Refuse, Reduce and Reuse; Recipe for Running a Zero Waste Restaurant, they shared the following lessons for reducing waste in the kitchen:

Image: Nicholas Calcott

Image: Nicholas Calcott

  • * Eschew food packaging. Food packaging can stay in landfills for generations or lead to ocean plastic pollution. Nolla doesn’t accept food in packaging at their restaurant in Helsinki. In New York the chefs shopped farmers markets to find sustainably produced and package-free foods for the Zero Waste Bistro. Restaurateurs can minimize their impact by connecting with their suppliers to request food without packaging,  and individuals can further this effort by carrying reusable shopping bags and shopping in bulk. “When we get something that comes in packaging, we send it back to our supplier,” says Nolla chef Carlos Henriques. “When people understand why, they respect us more for doing so.”

  • * Rethink “byproducts!” At the Zero Waste Bistro, the chefs created sauces flavored by leftover shrimp shells and made ice cream from cocoa husks leftover from Mast Brothers chocolates. Their food philosophy encourages using everything available, and rethinking what’s possible with leftovers and byproducts; a lesson that applies equally well in both home andhospitality environments.

  • * Compost. While food waste may not be completely avoidable all the time, the chefs recommend composting leftovers and byproducts. A head of lettuce can take 50 years to decompose in a landfill, whereas in compost it can provide rich and fertile soil to help more plants grow. At the Zero Waste Bistro and at their restaurant in Helsinki, the chefs used an Oklin industrial composter, which turns bio-waste into soil in only 24 hours.

  • * Serve seasonal foods provided by local farmers. The chefs at Nolla do this by taking whatever nearby farms are producing. Rather than requesting certain items, they accept whatever the farmers have in a given week,ensuring the food that’s grown in their region doesn’t go to waste. Other restaurants can follow this model by connecting with the farmers in their area, whereas individuals can do so by shopping farmers markets and looking for locally grown foods at the nearest supermarket.


DESIGN: Designed by Linda Bergroth, the contemporary and immersive Zero Waste Bistro demonstrated that design can be beautiful and prevent waste at the same time. Here’s how:

Image: Nicholas Calcott

Image: Nicholas Calcott

  • *Use recycled/recyclable materials. Made largely from post-industrial plastic waste and natural pigments, theDurat composite, which comprised the 30+ foot long table at the Zero Waste Bistro, as well as trays and table accessories, are completely recyclable. The architecture of the Bistro was built with Re-Wall, a material made from recycled Tetra-Paks. Architects and designers can improve the footprint of their projects by considering the recyclability of the materials they choose and by specifying up-cycled/recycled materials; a lesson that applies just as easily in the home.

  • * Buy timeless, high quality pieces. Seating, lighting and tableware for the Zero Waste Bistro was provided by the Finnish Design Shop, the online purveyor of sought after Nordic designs, and Artek, the iconic Finnish design firm founded by Alvar Aalto. The curators of the space were keen to demonstrate that selecting high-quality, timeless designs like the Alvar Aalto Stool 60 reduces waste by ensuring they will be kept and used for generations, whereas adhering to trends or buying poor-quality designs means there’s not long before it’s outwith the old and in with the new.

  • * Pay attention to plastic in the materials and items you choose. Plastic is the dominating packaging material in the world and the plastic consumption is growing all the time. Regardless of the improved recycling schemes and energy production in different countries, the plastic waste keeps accumulating to the nature. Zero Waste Bistro introduced two solutions: a disposable cup made of completely plastic free cartonboard, by Kotkamills, and a new bio-degradable packaging material for cosmetics by Sulapac.



FASHION. As part of the public programs Zero Waste Bistro hosted a presentation on zero-waste fashion with Timo Rissanen of Parsons New School, author of Zero Waste Fashion Design, and designer Yeohlee Teng. In their presentation, they explored how we can reduce waste as individuals by being more selective about what we wear and as designers by being more mindful of how we make and sell clothes. Their advice included the following suggestions:

  • * Choose quality over quantity. Fast fashion is a leading source of landfill waste. We contribute to the problem by buying new or poor-quality clothes that are in and out of our closets with the season. Designers can address the problem by making clothes designed to last, whereas individuals can have a more positive impact by giving vintage and second-hand fashions a second life, looking at zero waste brands, analyzing the life-cycles of theclothes, as well as brands’ material choices and production methods.


READ MORE on then Zero Waste Bistro event site

ABOUT THE FINNISH CULTURAL INSTITUTE IN NEW YORK . The Finnish Cultural Institute in New York operates in the fields of contemporary art, design and architecture, creating dialogue between Finnish and American professionals and audiences. On top of ongoing residency and mobility programs for artists, architects, designers and curators, recent projects include the exhibition fashion After Fashion at the Museum of Art and Design; Beyond Binaries – a one day symposium on binaries of personhood, and what we write when we write about design, a mentoring program for design criticism. The Institute is a 501(c)3 Private Foundation.

ABOUT RESTAURANT NOLLA. The Helsinki-based Restaurant Nolla started from the need to rethink the restaurant industry. Our philosophy is simple: “Refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resource, recycle.” To successfully complete the zero-waste ideology, we work directly with producers to rethink, reject and control packaging. Local and organic ingredients, as well as overlooked byproducts of our food system are the building blocks of our dishes.

ABOUT LINDA BERGROTH. Linda Bergroth is a Helsinki and Paris-based designer, whose projects range from industrial design and interior architecture to creating sets. Bergroth moves fluently between different scales fusing commercial and experimental, lasting and temporary. In her work, Nordic traditions encounter bold and unpredictable ideas with a surprising outcome .Bergroth’s vision is valued by leading Nordic design brands such as Fiskars, Marimekko and Artek. For Zero Waste Bistro, Linda has designed the space as well as the bespoke dining table and table set.

ABOUT HARRI KOSKINEN. Harri Koskinen’s uncompromising, bold design aesthetic has gained him international recognition since the early daysof his career. A spare style and a conceptual approach to product and spatial design are Koskinen's trademarks. In 2009, Koskinen launched his first namesake collection, Harri Koskinen Works. Koskinen's works have been on display in exhibitions around the world. He has been awarded several major design prizes, and works with brands such as Muji, Design House Stockholm, iittala and Genelec. His Block Lamp is in the permanent collection on MoMA.

ABOUT THE PARTNERS. Each partner and collaborator was invited through the curating process, and selected on the basis of their stake in sustainability. The Finnish Design Shop and Artek brought in sustainable made-to-last tableware and furniture; Durat launched their new recycled composite collection; Kotkamills presented their repulpable disposable cups; Sulapac a completely new plastic free packaging material; Oklin the 24h food compostor and Finnair as a sustainable airline flew the designers and chefs in from Helsinki to New York. Drinks for the daily cocktail hours were provided by Kyrö Distillery, world's northernmost distillery known for their award winning Napue Gin.

Image: Nicholas Calcott

Image: Nicholas Calcott