From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Composting More Than Leftovers
Composting is a key component of any zero waste restaurant. While many eateries may compost their leftover food scraps, Nordic Koivu takes it a step further by also composting things like coffee grounds, tea bags, and napkins. “We wanted to look at the entire life cycle of the products we use and find ways to return as much as possible back to the earth, rather than having it end up in a landfill,” explains owner Sanna Virtanen.
To make this vision a reality, Koivu invested in an on-site composting system. Food scraps, along with compostable serveware and paper products, get collected in bins throughout the restaurant. These materials then go into an aerobic composting machine, where natural decomposition occurs. Within just 24 hours, usable compost emerges. “It’s incredible to witness how quickly our food waste can transform into something beneficial, rather than sit and rot in a dump,” Sanna says.
The nutrient-rich compost gets sent to local farms, where it’s applied to enrich the soil. “We want to support other sustainable businesses, so sharing the end result of our composting efforts seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Sanna explains. The compost not only reduces the restaurant’s environmental impact, but also gives back to the community.
Other restaurants looking to implement on-site composting can start small. Coffee grounds make great compost, so dedicating a bin in the kitchen specifically for used grounds is an easy first step. Switching to compostable take-out containers is another way to divert more waste, even if you don’t yet have the capacity for large-scale composting.
What else is in this post?
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Composting More Than Leftovers
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Utilizing Every Part of Ingredients
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Eliminating Single-Use Items
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Rethinking Takeout Packaging
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Investing in Reusable Dishware
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Engaging Staff and Customers in Sustainability
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Leading by Example in the Community
- From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - The Future of Waste-Free Eating
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Utilizing Every Part of Ingredients
Reducing food waste starts with using every edible part of the ingredients we buy. Nordic Koivu is committed to this philosophy, finding creative ways to transform would-be scraps into tasty dishes. “We call it root-to-leaf cooking. Whether it’s carrot tops, broccoli stalks, or apple peels, we strive to utilize the entire plant,” Sanna explains.
Take beets, for example. While many chefs immediately discard the leafy beet greens, Nordic Koivu’s cooks instead turn them into a bright, vegetal pesto. The restaurant also pickles tender beet stems for use in salads. As for the beets themselves, even the peel gets put to use, infused into drinks or fried into crunchy garnishes.
Citrus peels also get a second life at Nordic Koivu. Cooks candy orange and lemon peels for use in desserts and beverages. For an extra flavor boost, they’ll steep gin or vodka with peels to make infused spirits. “We’re constantly experimenting with ways to transform what would normally be considered waste into something we can serve to guests,” says Sanna.
When ingredient parts aren’t fit for human consumption, the restaurant finds other uses. For instance, broccoli stems too fibrous to eat get turned into broth. Carrot and beet peels add color and nutrients when used to dye rice for vegetarian “sushi.”
Occasionally, despite the staff’s best efforts, an ingredient remains that can’t be used. But rather than sending it to the compost, Nordic Koivu collaborates with a local urban farm. “They use our vegetable scraps for things like feeding their chickens or adding nutrients back into the soil,” explains Sanna. This farm-to-table-and-back-to-farm approach epitomizes the circular nature of sustainability.
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Eliminating Single-Use Items
For Nordic Koivu, eliminating single-use plastics and paper was an obvious move in their sustainability journey. “We saw how much trash was generated each day from things like straws, cutlery, and takeout containers. Even paper napkins and receipts contribute to the problem,” explains Sanna. The restaurant took a two-pronged approach, finding reusable alternatives while also educating customers.
Nordic Koivu invested in durable dishware and glass drinking straws. Takeout food gets packaged in compostable sugarcane containers or reusable tiffins brought in by customers. Wooden cutlery replaces plastic, and drinks come with metal straws. “We prioritized swapping out high-waste items first, then kept finding more ways to remove disposable products,” says Sanna.
However, Sanna notes operational changes only go so far. “If customers still expect disposable items out of habit, they'll end up in the trash.” Koivu tackled this with clear communication about their zero waste efforts. Menus explain the new systems, and servers skillfully guide guests away from single-use items. "Customers have been very supportive once they understand why we made these choices,” Sanna explains.
Other restaurants making the transition from disposable to durable have seen mixed results. “At first, customers complained about the lack of straws and takeout containers,” recalls Talia Simmons of Greenhouse Cafe. But over time, diners adapted. “We realized people just needed help understanding why change was happening,” Talia says. They trained staff to explain the environmental benefits, provided take-home tiffins at cost, and gave discounts for bringing reusable mugs and containers. “Making sustainable habits rewarding helped customers embrace the changes,” Talia explains.
John Wu of Remedy Kitchen took a different approach. “We knew disposable cutlery was wasteful, but we weren't sure guests would accept completely reusable options right away.” They started by only providing cutlery upon request. “We were surprised how many customers opted to skip cutlery altogether once it wasn’t automatically supplied,” John says. Within a few months, they transitioned to reusable cutlery for dine in meals, noting it was an easier change after diners had already adjusted to not using disposables.
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Rethinking Takeout Packaging
Takeout packaging poses a major challenge for restaurants striving to reduce waste. The typical disposable containers, utensils, and bags pile up quickly, with the average American generating over 200 pounds of this garbage annually according to the EPA. Nordic Koivu recognized takeout contributed significantly to their waste output, so they got creative with sustainable solutions.
“We tested all sorts of reusable takeout options to find substitutions that were functional, affordable, and not burdensome for customers,” explains Sanna. Glass and metal containers proved too heavy and prone to breakage. Compostable sugarcane fiber bowls deteriorated during the commute home. Ultimately, they landed on a deposit-based system using durable, BPA-free plastic tiffins.
Customers pay a fully refundable 5€ deposit to purchase a tiffin, which they can then exchange on return visits. Nordic Koivu maintains an inventory of tiffins, so customers don’t have to remember to bring their container each time. “The tiffins give customers an easy, convenient option while still reducing waste,” Sanna says. To date, they’ve replaced thousands of single-use containers, with the program proving popular with regulars and tourists alike.
John Wu at Remedy Kitchen encountered skepticism when they introduced a similar tiffin program. “There was definitely some pushback. People thought it was strange to put their takeout in a used container, even after washing.” But offering a 10% discount on meals ordered in reusable tiffins motivated diners. After a few months, most regulars embraced the eco-friendly option.
Meanwhile, Talia Simmons chose compostable takeout packaging over reusables. “We just didn’t have the resources to manage an inventory of tiffins,” she explains. Compostable sugarcane fiber containers cost a bit more but work with Greenhouse Cafe’s waste collection system. Talia makes sure to highlight the packaging’s sustainability benefits on their menu and website. “We want diners to understand why we choose to spend more on these compostable containers and forgo plasticware.”
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Investing in Reusable Dishware
Transitioning to reusable dishware is a significant upfront investment for restaurants aiming to reduce waste. However, Nordic Koivu views this investment as vital for meeting their sustainability goals. “Disposable cups, plates, and cutlery were among our top waste contributors,” explains Sanna. “We wanted to find alternatives that were functional for customers but eliminated this constant stream of trash.”
The restaurant devoted resources to purchasing durable dishware and glassware, favoring options made from recycled and sustainably-sourced materials. While energy-efficient dishwashers consume water and electricity, Koivu concluded reusables still represent a net gain for the environment. “When we weighed the impacts, running our dishwashers ranked lower than constantly producing new disposable dishware,” says Sanna.
Other businesses switching to reusables underscored the importance of choosing the right products. “We bought a set of glass drinking straws, only to have them shatter and cause injuries,” recalls Talia Simmons of Greenhouse Cafe. She wishes they had vetted their options through a sustainability lens, not just price and appearance. “In trying to solve one problem, we created another risk,” Talia explains. They opted for more durable steel straws for their second attempt.
John Wu at Remedy Kitchen notes the value of investing in dishware that’s uniquely yours. “ Generic white plates sent the wrong message about our commitment to sustainability,” he explains. By using custom-made ceramics glazed with food waste, Remedy makes a statement. “Our one-of-a-kind dishware opens conversations about our environmental efforts,” John says.
These restaurateurs also underscore the importance of training staff on the proper handling of reusables. “Employees needed guidance on best practices for washing dishes,” Sanna shares. Thorough cleaning and sanitation are essential. Talia agrees: “We developed detailed procedures for our dishwashing team. Taking time to ensure reusables are properly cleaned means they last longer.”
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Engaging Staff and Customers in Sustainability
For a business to fully embrace sustainability, it takes more than just operational changes. “You also need to bring your staff and customers along on the journey,” explains Nordic Koivu owner Sanna Virtanen. With enthusiastic buy-in from employees and diners, Koivu’s zero waste efforts gained momentum.
“Our staff were with us from the beginning in rethinking how we run a restaurant,” Sanna shares. Employees vetted vendors, tested composting systems, and offered feedback on reusable dishware options. The collaborative process built engagement. “The more involved our team members felt, the more passionate they became about reducing waste,” she says. Employees now proudly share Koivu’s sustainability initiatives with guests.
Providing training also proved critical. “You can’t expect staff to implement these programs without guidance,” Sanna notes. Koivu provides workshops on their internal waste diversion processes and new equipment. Roleplaying customer interactions helps prepare staff to answer questions and explain the environmental benefits. “Even veteran employees need refreshers on our latest efforts,” Sanna explains. “Continual training gives our team the confidence and knowledge to fully embrace sustainability.”
John Wu of Remedy Kitchen agrees. “As we introduced more waste reduction initiatives, ongoing staff education was crucial.” Before launching their composting program, employees toured the industrial composting facility to see firsthand how their efforts would make an impact. Menu development teams now learn about ingredient utilization during planning to prevent usable scraps from being trashed. “The more staff understand about our sustainability programs, the more invested they are in their success,” John says.
Customer engagement also accelerates change. “Diners appreciate when you help them make sustainable choices,” Sanna explains. Koivu’s servers are trained to gently guide guests toward reusable dishware and compostable packaging. When customers forget a takeaway tiffin, employees offer friendly reminders about reducing waste. “We make it easy and rewarding for diners to join our mission.”
Menus provide another opportunity to share Koivu’s efforts. “We don’t just list our organic suppliers, we tell their stories,” Sanna says. Detailed descriptions explain sustainable fishing practices, regenerative agriculture, and more. “Guests light up when they understand how our purveyors align with our values. It sparks meaningful conversations that build lasting connections.”
Talia Simmons of Greenhouse Cafe urges transparency above all. “We engage customers by giving them an inside look at what happens in our kitchen.” Videos on Greenhouse’s website show the dishwashing process, highlight on-site composting, and profile vendors. “People feel more connected when they see behind the scenes,” Talia explains. She regularly solicits customer feedback via surveys and focus groups. “Hearing directly from diners shows them their voice matters in our journey to zero waste.”
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - Leading by Example in the Community
Implementing sustainability initiatives within the walls of your restaurant is important, but making an impact in the broader community exponentially increases your influence. Nordic Koivu recognizes their responsibility to lead by example and inspire other businesses to rethink waste.
“We want to show the restaurant industry that operating sustainably is not only possible, but financially viable,” explains Sanna Virtanen. She shares Koivu’s journey through speaking engagements, pilot programs that partner with other restaurants, and formalized waste diversion training. “Proving these models work on a small scale enables other chefs to replicate our programs.”
For example, Koivu collaborated with five neighboring restaurants to launch a community composting initiative. They brought in consultants to assess each business’s waste stream, secured a shared contract with a hauler for dedicated food scrap pickup, and helped owners make space for compost bins. “By banding together, we made the process much more affordable and manageable,” Sanna explains. The pilot was so successful that 15 additional restaurants have joined, diverting thousands of pounds of food waste each week.
Koivu also partners with food distributors to reduce packaging waste industry-wide. “We connected with regional produce and protein suppliers about minimizing disposable crates, wraps, and foam boxes.” After developing creative solutions like reusable shipping containers, Koivu is assisting the vendors with rolling out these programs to other restaurant clients.
However, enacting change requires more than just sharing ideas. “You have to foster connections between sustainability-minded businesses so they can support each other,” Sanna says. To strengthen their local network, Koivu helped launch a monthly roundtable. Restaurant owners and chefs meet to discuss waste reduction challenges and identify shared solutions. They swap leftover ingredients, exchange excess dishware, and more. “Forming these close partnerships makes every business stronger and more sustainable.”
Koivu also uses their purchasing power to encourage vendors to offer eco-friendly products at reasonable prices. “We kept asking suppliers for compostable takeout containers. Once enough restaurants joined us, the distributors listened,” Sanna explains. This demand led regional providers to carry more sustainable offerings at competitive rates, making it easier for all restaurants to reduce disposables.
From Roots to Leaves: How a Restaurant in Finland is Pioneering Zero Waste Dining - The Future of Waste-Free Eating
The zero waste movement is gathering momentum, but what does the future hold for waste-free dining? Nordic Koivu and other pioneering restaurants hope their efforts today will inspire a broader shift across the industry.
“In ten years, ‘zero waste restaurant’ won’t seem like a novel concept. It will be the norm,” predicts owner Sanna Virtanen. She sees a future where reusable dishware, composting, and ingredient utilization are standard operating procedures for eateries.
However, enacting this vision requires overcoming significant barriers. “Right now, sustainability often feels like the more difficult choice for restaurants. It should be the easiest option,” Sanna explains. Widespread change demands better infrastructure to support waste diversion programs. It also hinges on shifting customer expectations.
Diners play a critical role in driving demand for eco-friendly practices. “Guests need to expect and request sustainability, not see it as an added perk,” says Talia Simmons of Greenhouse Cafe. She believes transparency around sourcing and transparent business practices helps diners understand the footprint of their meal choices.
John Wu also sees menu design as pivotal. “Chefs have a duty to make plant-based dishes appealing and convenient,” he explains. This means not relegating them to a separate section. He predicts locally sourced vegetables will increasingly star at the center of menus, with meat and dairy options moved to the sidelines.
Regulation and policy are other forces that can accelerate progress by removing barriers. “Legislation limiting single-use plastics forces our hand to innovate solutions,” Sanna explains. Carbon taxes and incentives for rooftop composting can similarly influence restaurants to take action.
However, lasting change must also come from within the industry itself. “We have to prove that sustainable practices contribute to profitability,” Sanna maintains. Hospitality associations should provide owners and chefs with educational resources and financial guidance.
Distributors must also step up to expand access to products like reusable takeaway containers. Streamlined vendor guidelines for reducing packaging waste would take the burden off individual restaurants to find solutions.
“The onus is on all of us to reimagine every step of the supply chain to eliminate trash,” Sanna concludes. The world wastes 1.3 billion tons of food annually according to the UN. Meanwhile, plastic pollution is projected to triple in the oceans by 2040. Time is running out to change course.