Updated: Apr 27, 2020
There is no question that 2018 has been the year of "sustainable bartending". Bars and companies alike are milking the word daily and jumping on the Eco bandwagon, ditching plastic straws, paper napkins and anything else which goes against the cause. Although at face value this is a good thing I have to ask the question, is this just another trend or is it here to stay?
Already I can hear the environmentally and socially conscious of you erupt insisting that it’s a "must" and that it's never going away because it's for the planet, animals, etc. Indeed, I want to agree, after all whatever can be done to make the world a better place is only a good thing. But what I'm asking is not "is this a good cause" but rather, “is it likely to last or will it simply fade away when the next latest and greatest thing comes along?”
There is no doubt that there are people in our industry that hold steadfast in making a difference because to them this is not a trend, this is an everyday occurrence and has been for many years now. To those people, I salute you because you did what you felt was right, in-spite of what media or trends at the time dictated and you will likely continue to do so long after the media train has left the station! But let's cut the shit here, the fact is a large majority of companies out there want the approval of the "sustainability tag" whilst doing the bare minimum to understand it or implement it. Yes, I know some will say "hey, at least they are doing something rather than nothing", and to an extent yes that's true and good. But is it good enough? Let me give you an example; recently here in Dubai (and globally) a lot of companies have taken the measure of removing plastic straws from their venue and replacing them with alternatives such as paper, and have insisted on shouting about it in the media. BIG PAT ON THE BACK I HEAR YOU SAY! Well I call this Bullshit, these same companies continue throwing perfectly good food and other perishable commodities in the trash on a daily basis, recycle at the absolute lowest level and offer little in the way of training to staff to better improve the situation. So, is a paper straw really cutting the mustard and if not then what is?
Recently The Liquidstate was lucky enough to be involved in a fantastic project conceptualised by Corona for the Corona Sunsets Festival, bringing together companies with the knowledge, understanding and passion to be able to make a difference. The vision was simple, to host a three-day festival whilst recycling 75% of everything sold, used and consumed. In addition to this overall target we were presented with the additional challenge of operating a VIP Brand bespoke Zero Waste Bar as close to 100% as possible.
The first step in the journey meant understanding what sustainability actually is and from there how best to work within its parameters. According to TerraLoop founder Ryan Ingram, ‘Waste is a resource misplaced’ and the first step in managing waste is to measure it. To give you a base indicator in Dubai the average person produces and discards approximately 2.5 kg of waste per day, almost all of which goes to landfill. This is one of the highest figures globally, a statistic which the government here has taken note of and is determined to reduce, aiming for 1.5 kg per person by 2021. For this project, we wanted to divert as much waste as possible from Landfill and instead give it a new life.
"Measure - Reduce - Divert - Close the Loop"
The first requirement was clear, set up multiple easy to access collection points throughout the festival site along with a sorting area to monitor and record all set parameters, namely:
Next came the conceptualisation of the drinks, all of which had to incorporate Corona and must be "Zero Waste". One of the key factors in our process was understanding just how large the issue of food waste really is, both socially and within our industry. To give you another statistic Dubai imports over 34million tonnes of food annually, yet almost 40% of all food imported in will never be consumed. The reasons are multiple yet many are avoidable, something which we wanted to show. With this we decided to pick select food items commonly wasted and worked on ways to use, re-use and if possible use again until they were truly spent, after which time they would go to compost. We considered the flavour profiles, techniques to be used to get the best results and yields and required production amounts, requiring some 1,300 cocktails in total. In addition, we looked at incorporating elements of liquid waste such as ullage which would commonly be discarded rather than repurposed. Over a week of testing ideas lead us to some interesting findings all of which could be rolled out in any bar worldwide with just a bit of training and guidance. Obviously, we looked at other parameters to including service wear, use of consumables and so on. In the end, all drinks were served in reusable stainless steel mugs, with no straws and no napkins. All ice used in the production of the drink was carried through to the service and all storage containers were reusable and recyclable. Now I won't bore you with the details of the drinks right now, I'll save that for another blog. For now, let's focus on the end results.
Over the space of the three days the VIP and Zero Waste bars operated for two. In total 23,121 people attended the event generating 4,590 kg of total waste across all measured parameters. From this, 3,999 kg was able to be diverted from landfill and put to further use providing an 87.1% total diversion rate, 12.1% above the target and an incredible result.
With regards to the Zero Waste Bar, the were equally positive. A total of 188.5 litres in Liquids and 218.9 kg of food and dry goods were used in the batching of 1,300 drinks. In addition, all packaging, preparation waste, composted and non-composted materials and additional items were accounted for. Including bottle sales over the days a total of 162.5 kg of waste was generated with 160,5 kg being sent for recycling, a total of 98.8% diversion landfill.
Trees Saved: 8
Water Saved: 12,924ltrs (684 Gallon Bottles) OR (1 x 500ml water bottle/Festival Goer)
Electricity Saved: 4,580 kWh, enough to charge everyone at the festivals' mobile phones for 2.5 months.
Barrels of Crude Oil saved: 193, enough to produce petrol for a medium sized car to drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back (386km) for a year (6 days a week).
So, what does this show us? Firstly, with a little effort and initiative great things are possible. It does not take a major change to make a big difference, but it does require change both in mind set and in our practices. It also shows that the way we look at waste needs to change for the sake of the environment AND for our businesses.
I posed the question at the start, “is doing the bare minimum good enough to call yourself sustainable?” To me the answer is NO! Flippant as it may be, using paper straws is just a blip on the landscape of what sustainability really is and what it takes to get there so for all those companies who keep banging on about it, it's time for a dose of reality. Be honest and ask yourselves a question, do you or your company have a solid grasp on the actual wastage figures of your establishments outside of general waste such as spillage or guest returns? I'm guessing very few in which case you are by definition not sustainable and are likely costing your company money, not to mention environmentally unsound. Being sustainable takes measurable effort and consideration in multiple avenues. Yes, packaging and service waste is important but it’s not the only thing.
As an industry, we need to be aware of the bigger picture and take steps to reduce all waste, be it from food, liquid, recycling, compost and so on. Perhaps companies fear the bigger picture, perhaps ignorance makes it more convenient to be in a bubble and pretend to do your bit rather than actually doing your bit. Maybe the idea on investing in something with no perceived financial return doesn't sit well with the bods in accounting. If that’s the case then environmental benefits aside, there are vast business based benefits to investing in sustainability. Any time a commodity is thrown in the trash or poured down the sink our business loses, yet the majority of operations continue to do so due to lack of knowledge and bad practice. This perceived trash can all be utilised elsewhere with just a bit of knowledge and direction improving bottom lines and overall performance.
I also asked “is sustainability just a trend?” Well, sadly it may be for many who are just riding the wave, but from my side and like many others it's more than that. Trends by nature come and go, but this is most certainly something that we can all get on board with as part of our regular business practice. Call it sustainable or just call it smart with your commodities, either way it makes sense.
A big thank you to the following people for making this such an amazing event:
Mattias Priels from Africa & Eastern for having the vision, initiative and determination to make a difference at the Sunsets Festival.
Tammy Urwin & Team from Urban Events for bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Ryan Ingram, Rana Khoury & the support team from TerraLoop for the guidance, dedication to task behind the scenes and detailed analysis of all the waste through the festival.
Leanne Dore from My Green Chapter for supplying all the cool composting systems over the weekend.
May Ali for her amazing sustainable art installations helping to capture peoples imagination.
Maja Kozel for creating an amazing space for everyone to enjoy their time with us.