Going green: restaurants and hotels avoid plastic, upcycle waste and plant roof gardens
In Hong Kong, 3,000 restaurants no longer hand out plastic cutlery to takeaway customers, bars have replaced plastic straws, hotels change bedlinen less often, and chefs attain the ultimate in local sourcing: from their own roofs
With shocking images circulating in recent years of Hong Kong beaches awash with plastic waste, the city’s hotels, restaurants and bars have got the message and taken initiatives to reduce their use of the polluting material.
Outlets such as Grassroots Pantry, PDT, Potato Head, Flamingo Bloom and DiVino Wine Bar and Restaurant have recently stopped using plastic straws, replacing them with paper or metal ones or doing away with them entirely.
Hotels, meanwhile, ask guests whether they need their bedlinen changed every day. As well as ceasing its use of plastic straws, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental upcycles waste, has introduced more sustainable bathroom amenities in partnership with Cochine, a developer of luxury fragrances and diffusers based in Vietnam, and plans to plant a rooftop garden.
Cochine helped the hotel develop chemical-free shampoos, conditioners, liquid soaps and lotions using coconut oil and olive oil. The company’s founder, Kate Crofton-Atkins, approached the five-star hotel a year ago, offering to help it significantly reduce its use of single-use plastic.
“One would think the easiest thing to do would be to put them [shampoo, soap] in large containers, but they also need to be tamper-proof, refillable, and plastic-free,” says Crofton-Atkins, who previously worked for L’Oreal.
The hotel and Cochine eventually settled on large, stylish dispensers. For the hotel’s smaller rooms, the brand sourced relatively thin plastic bottles that contain an organic compound which makes them biodegrade more easily.
In the kitchen, culinary director Richard Ekkebus has been looking for ways to make the two-Michelin-star Amber restaurant more eco-friendly. For the past five years, he has been asking kitchen staff to get into the habit of weighing kitchen waste daily.
“The aim is to reduce our waste every year – reduce food waste and look at the way things are packaged. For example, we get abalone in the shell. The shells are so beautiful it is a waste to throw them in the garbage so we give them to niin, a local jewellery brand, to use,” Ekkebus says.
The kitchen has also cut down on its use of plastic containers by sourcing ones made from cornstarch and vegetable fibres, and is reducing its carbon footprint by having chef jackets made by local tailors and buying locally produced honey.
Ekkebus also pushed for the installation of Nordaq Fresh, a water filtration system that is used not only in Amber but throughout the hotel. Instead of single-use plastic water bottles in the hotel’s 111 rooms, restaurants and bars, customers have filtered water in glass bottles.
Peter Ulrich, Asia director of Nordaq Fresh, says the filtered water is ideal for cleansing palates when tasting fine food and wine, which is why several top restaurants and hotels, including VEA, Uwe and the Conrad in Hong Kong, have also installed the filtration system.
“The water brings out the true flavours of the food and wine. Other mineral waters have excess minerals and some have preservatives in them that can alter taste buds. Water affects the flavour of what we taste. Water shouldn’t taste salty. The focus should be on the food and wine, and not the water,” Ulrich says.
The restaurants and hotels rent the water purification systems for about HK$7,000 (US$890) per month per unit, and the company services them.
Aside from the better taste, Ulrich says there’s an important environmental reason for using filtered water. “It’s madness to ship water halfway around the world. We are localising production as close as possible. You produce a better quality product with local tap water.”
Ekkebus will also soon be planting a garden on the hotel’s roof. “We’ll have access to fresher ingredients, and organic waste will be composted. Staff will participate in the maintenance of the garden. This is our way of making Central prettier,” he says. Social enterprise Rooftop Republic will consult on setting up the garden.
He has already spoken to Ricardo Chaneton, chef de cuisine at Petrus, on the top floor of the Island Shangri-La hotel and one of the first restaurants in the city to have set up a rooftop garden. Last year Chaneton created a salad containing 20 ingredients sourced from the hydroponic garden.
“I had to tell my chefs to literally go out and get the salad so it’s very fresh – they just had to wash it and then put it on the plate,” says Chaneton. “We would tell the guests the ingredients were from our garden, and if they are interested we even take them out to see it.”
The hydroponic garden has a series of diagonally descending rows of pipes with holes in them, each holding a plant, such as lettuce or herbs. Petrus staff have managed to grow a variety of vegetables, including cornichons, Chinese cucumbers, tomatoes, Swiss chard, thyme, and several varieties of lettuce.
“These are nasturtiums,” he says, pointing to some dark green, round leaves. “A small container of these cost HK$70, but I can save money growing my own and I know they are good quality because we grow them ourselves.”
Chaneton says the rooftop is a good place for the garden because it gets four hours of direct sunlight a day, but the coming typhoon season will be a concern.
He wanted to start the rooftop garden because he used to farm in France and missed being in touch with nature. It has been a good learning aid for his kitchen team to understand seasonality and be more in tune with nature, he says.
“Every day we see new flowers and leaves. My staff ask me when something is ready to be picked, but it’s hard for me to describe because gardening is more of a feeling,” he says.
Though the one-year-old garden may seem small, Chaneton says it’s proof that gardening in the city centre is possible.
Also doing its part for the environment is food delivery service Deliveroo, which has persuaded the 3,000 restaurants it partners with to hand out less disposable cutlery to customers. Last year it conducted a trial run with 150 restaurants, asking them to give out items of cutlery only when customers requested them. The service recorded a success rate of more than 90 per cent.
“When people order lunch, some have already accumulated a lot of cutlery and don’t need more. But for dinner, when they order food to be delivered at home, they already have their own cutlery,” explains Brian Lo, Deliveroo Hong Kong’s general manager.
Since the end of April, Deliveroo has made it a policy to deliver all meals without plastic cutlery unless specifically requested by the customer. Lo says that in the past it received complaints from customers who had received disposable knives and forks when they hadn’t requested them.
He says restaurant chains such as Cafe de Coral and Modern China Restaurant are seeing a significant drop in requests for cutlery.
Deliveroo’s next goal is to ditch plastic containers in favour of biodegradable alternatives. So far it has been looking at packaging made from sugar cane and bamboo fibres. Lo hopes that, if Deliveroo can find the right supplier, the bulk purchasing for all of its restaurants will lower the cost of the containers, making their use financially viable for both restaurants and customers.
Lo says the aim is to have new packaging available for the restaurants to use by the end of this year. In the meantime Deliveroo is doing a lot of research, and is taking a close look at the container supplier used by Mana!, a whole foods group with two restaurants and an online delivery service.
Meanwhile, Maxim’s Group, with its large stable of restaurants, is working actively with the delivery service to come up with a solution to the plastic problem.
“It’s so ingrained for some Chinese restaurant staff to put cutlery in the bag, so it’s taking time to get them to change their behaviour, but we’re seeing an improvement. Since April there has been a 50 per cent decrease in the number of complaints, though there might be some customers who have given up on complaining,” Lo admits.