From banana peels to rosemary stems and citrus husks—ingredients once destined for landfill are now being recycled and repurposed by a new wave of socially conscious bartenders committed to sustainable and low-waste practices. This is no mere trend. It’s a full-blown movement, spearheaded by bartenders the world over on a mission to mend the planet, making cocktails out of ‘waste’ and employing locally made biodegradable or reusable materials. So it’s goodbye to plastic straws, paper napkins and cardboard coasters.
In an industry known for its excess, Ryan Chetiyawardana caused controversy with the opening of White Lyan in London back in 2013, where he implemented a strict no-citrus policy. Disillusioned with citrus’s heavy carbon footprint, Chetiyawardana opted instead to replicate its flavour profiles by playing with vinegars and other acids. And it makes sense if you consider the life of a single lemon: the planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, storing, packaging and more transporting involved, all for a single squeeze and toss.
In 2017, he evolved White Lyan into Super Lyan. "With White Lyan we challenged the status quo and the waste generated by the blindly followed rules of the industry. It drastically reduced waste by drastically overhauling operations," explains Chetiyawardana. By combining the ethos of White Lyan with that of his other award-winning bar, Dandelyan, he confronted the idea of seasonality and championed the idea that sustainability is not only about sacrifice. "We will use natural products from around the world, and an understanding of their biology allows us to use them better, and more completely. We will try work with producers directly where possible." As such, Chetiyawardana continues the fight for low-waste bartending coupled with forward-thinking ways of sourcing.
Nine Lives, a newcomer on the low-waste London bar scene, has joined the good fight against ‘single-use’ ingredients. When life gives them lemons, they’ll squeeze the juice of a lemon for cocktails, extract essential oils for liqueurs from the skin, and use what's left over to compost the herb garden out back. As owner Tom Soden, who is currently writing a manual on sustainability for Diageo, explains: “Reusing a lemon is only skin deep on sustainability”. From a quick look around his bar—speakers repurposed from a club opposite, faux marble table tops made out of resin, and bamboo straws with a strict ‘one per customer’ rule (“if you lose a straw it’ll cost you a quid thereafter”)—it’s clear that Nine Lives regards long-term sustainability as part of its mission.
Over in South East Asia, Native in Singapore, helmed by eco-warrior Vijay Mudaliar, is pushing the boundaries of sustainable bartending. He only uses regional spirits—Indian whiskey, Filipino rum, Sri Lankan arrack, Thai gins—and everything from the furniture to the aprons and music is supplied by local and regional artists. Even the coasters are cut from lotus leaves. It goes without saying that nothing in the bar goes to waste: banana peels, old coconuts and pineapple skins are all repurposed into inventive cocktails, such as the Pineapple Arrack.
On one of their busiest Friday nights to date, the bar managed to get its trash down to a mere 98g, most of which ended up in the bar’s bokashi compost, a Japanese system of composting that pickles your waste and produces an all-natural antibacterial liquid enzyme. Vijay and his team use it to wipe down the bar and mop the floor.
On one of their busiest Friday nights to date, [Native] bar
managed to get its trash down to a mere 98g, most of which
ended up in the bar’s bokashi compost
In Hong Kong, at On Dining and Lounge, head bartender Prem Shireesh has been championing a low-waste ethos since its opening some three years ago. It’s not an easy task in a city which still largely doesn't care about sustainability, he says. “It's a long, hard struggle to convince suppliers not to deliver every ingredient wrapped in plastic, but it's something we insist on.”
Citing plastic cocktail stirrers, which take centuries to break down, as a pet peeve, On uses bamboo stirrers, not just for the obvious environmental benefits, but also simply because “the wider, popsicle-stick shape is more effective at mixing a drink in the glass”.
(Related: The Region’s Best Bars In Singapore)
Tackling waste is serious business. Both the kitchen and the bar have a symbiotic relationship, working closely with each other to keep waste to the bare minimum. “For example, if the chef is discarding tough and inedible rosemary stems, we use them to infuse gins,” says Shireesh. “If we have leftover yuzu leaves (from the Mancino Rickey cocktail), the kitchen team will use them to create a special dessert.”
Over in Sai Ying Pun, sustainability is a key component of Potato Head’s brand identity. Plastic has been banned and the straws are 100 per cent bamboo or biodegradable. Reusing ingredients and repurposing ‘waste’ is at the heart of the cocktail menu. Potato Head originated in Indonesia, and as head bartender Tom Egerton explains, the bar’s ethos is encapsulated in the Indonesian phrase “kalpa viska”, which roughly translates to “the tree that supplies all needs”.
“It talks about the coconut tree and the multiple uses hidden within,” Egerton explains. “It contains water, food and medicine; you can burn it for warmth or weave it into fibres for cloth to guard against the elements. If you take into consideration how much just one item or ingredient can yield, it makes you think about how to really repurpose a product.”
The drinks menu is updated every four months at Potato Head Hong Kong, with each successive list utilising and minimising the waste generated by its predecessor. So ingredients that would otherwise go into waste are instead looped into the next cycle of drinks. Citrus husks will be repurposed into oil, salt cures and liqueurs; pineapple skin and ginger pulp will make fermented tepache; mango seed creates aromatic and bitter components; and coconut husks can be used as a souring agent or dried to impart nutty, smoky flavours. The aim, Edgerton says, is to “find second or third uses for each ingredient, reusing and repurposing what we can and making the rest into compost”.
Citrus husks will be repurposed into oil, salt cures and liqueurs; pineapple skin and ginger pulp will make fermented tepache; mango seed creates aromatic and bitter components; and coconut husks can be used as a souring agent or dried to impart nutty, smoky flavours
Reusing and repurposing ingredients is gathering pace in Hong Kong. Last month, 40 Hong Kong bartenders attended the ‘Trash Talk’ seminar by Trash Tiki, an anti-waste bartending duo, currently on a year-long global tour educating bartenders about waste minimisation. They spent two days in the city, and hosted a pop up at The Pontiac (itself committed to low waste bartending), working with local bars on ways to save what would otherwise have been thrown out, resulting in an inventive ad hoc menu. Leftover quinoa was made into orgeat, leftover longans were infused into Curaçao, and leftover foam from “run off beer” was turned into a boozy syrup.
And this is just the start. With more and more bartenders across the world employing sustainable practices and openly sharing their tips and insights, you can expect it to become a permanent fixture in bars, says Trash Tiki. So the next time you go out for a few you might find that the only thing that gets wasted, is you.
Zero Waste Address Book
Native, 52a Amoy Street, Singapore 069878; +65 8869 6520; tribenative.com
On Dining & Lounge, 29/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2174 8100; ontop.hk
Potato Head Hong Kong, 100 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong; +852 2858 6066; facebook.com/potatoheadhk
The Pontiac, 13 Old Bailey St, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2521 3855 ; facebook.com/thepontiac
Super Lyan, 155 Hoxton Street, London N1 6PJ; +44 20 3011 1153; superlyan.com
Nine Lives, 8 Holyrood St, London SE1 2EL; +44 20 7407 4430; ninelivesbar.com
This article first appeared on hongkongtatlerdining.com