Joost Bakker wants you to ‘stop wasting shit’. The Dutch-born eco-warrior pioneered the zero-waste movement more than 10 years ago in Australia with the restaurants Greenhouse, Brothl and Silo. He’s also behind Silo’s recently opened sister site in east London’s Hackney, headed up by chef Doug McMaster.
‘We obsess about electric cars, coal power stations and plastic bags, but the biggest environmental problem is our food. We need a radical change to the food system,’ says Bakker, whose restaurant projects were based on the question ‘Does a restaurant need a garbage bin?’
Bakker worked with McMaster and Australian chef Matt Stone to create a closed-loop restaurant model. All waste was composted on site and used in the garden where many ingredients were grown, food was made from rescued ingredients (Brothl specialised in soups made from animal bones and veggie scraps), cardboard was switched for reusable packaging, and ingredients such as local milk, beer, wine and mineral water were delivered in reusable stainless steel vessels. Bakker even redesigned the plastic cap on the kegs with the manufacturer to be made from paper.
Bakker’s latest projects are shifting the focus from food waste to improving the nutrient density of food through better soil quality, harnessing new technologies to turn plastic, poo and other ‘waste’ into energy sources and reimagining the spaces we grow, cook and eat food to be completely closed-loop. ‘Food metres, not miles,’ are the backbone of his designs.
Bakker says the idea of zero waste is impossible without changing the way we live. He has designed the world’s most sustainable shopping centre, Burwood Brickworks, and will soon launch Future Cave, a project that will involve Stone and his partner Jo Barrett – both are currently chefs at Oakridge Estate in Victoria’s Yarra Valley – living for a year in a completely self-sustaining, zero-emissions house designed by Bakker. The home will feed the couple with vertical and rooftop gardens complete with beehives, insect farms and micro-systems for fish and mushrooms; it will harvest rainwater and recycle grey water; process compost; and power it all using energy generated from recycling the chefs’ own waste.
The shift towards removing the stigma from waste and reframing it as a valuable resource is at the heart of his latest campaign. Bakker says the world is at an inflection point of ‘massive disruption’ when it comes to challenging our relationship with waste, and zero waste is becoming the new normal. ‘I’m bombarded with questions, not only from people in hospitality, but also architects, designers and lately fashion designers,’ he says. ‘It’s an exciting time.’