Australia wastes $20 billion worth of food every year. That’s around 300 kilograms of food per person, or one in every five bags of groceries.
It’s a staggering waste.
But to the owner of Sydney bar Re, Matt Whiley, it also represented a staggering opportunity.
Re recently launched in the South Eveleigh precinct and is the world’s first sustainable, no-waste cocktail bar.
Everything from the food and drinks to the lamps, glasses and chairs inside the bar was destined for the bin, but has been repurposed.
“I see the problem with work, with a lot of places I consult for - I see bins,” Whiley told Yahoo Finance.
Whiley had previously launched the popular London bar, Scout, which also had a focus on sustainability.
The London bar set Whiley to thinking about the broader picture of sustainability and consumption, and how waste could be curtailed.
“We have this incessant need to want everything all the time."
For example, in Britain fruits like pineapples and mangos are available all year around, even when they’re out of season. And any shopper can walk into a supermarket and buy a cheap chicken.
“We have this incessant need to want everything all the time,” he said.
“I think it would be really nice if you walked into a supermarket and there wasn't any chicken because they were ethically farmed and they weren't battery chickens.”
Re was the natural progression of this line of thinking.
Re partnered with providor City Direct to collect food that would have previously become waste.
Often, it’s food that is already ripe and so would be over-ripe by the time it reached other venues. Other times, it’s food that might have visual imperfections or bruises, but is still perfectly safe and edible.
Then, the food waste is transformed into cocktails like nectarine and vetiver negronis, plum and grapefruit spritzers, cucumber gins and strawberry wines.
Other produce is turned into pickles, ceviches, hummus and sorbet. Unwanted herbs will be used as garnishes, and there’s no sign that this food would have otherwise been considered imperfect.
That’s the whole idea behind the bar, Re manager Jake Down said.
"You just have a good time, and then if you want to peel back the layers, we’re here to answer."
Patrons can walk into the bar, sit at one of the stools made from reused saw dust, sip a cocktail beneath a lamp made out of mushrooms and lean against a counter made from thousands of milk bottles, and never know.
“You don’t know what the materials are made from and you just have a good time, and then if you want to peel back the layers, we’re here to answer [your questions],” Down said.
“We want people to rethink and reshape, in any way they can, how a bar can be operated and what lengths you can go to to... create less waste, to have a smaller footprint. We want to have a formula that other places can use.”
In fact, while Re is the first step, Whiley has big goals.
He wants Re to become a “small cog in the bigger picture”, with an ultimate goal of facilitating a marketplace within which ‘waste’ foods are sold and used rather than disposed of.
Under the long term vision, restaurant owners would be able to log onto a portal run by Whiley’s team and see what waste is available.
Then, that waste would be delivered for a service charge split between Whiley’s business and the grower themselves.
“People respond to knowing that they can make more money and they can save more money,” he said.
“There are obstacles but I’m hoping that I can share and solve some of those problems to make it easier for others as well.”
Re is located at shop 8/2 Locomotive St, Eveleigh NSW 2015.