Sustainability is absolutely one of the most important issues facing our world, both current and future. Whether it’s a concern for your water usage, saying no to straws or working towards a zero waste policy, the hospitality industry is demonstrating how we can all be a little more conscious when it comes to our consumption.

We had a chat to Tom Egerton – an advocate for sustainable practice & bar operations manager for Potato Head Hong Kong –  to find out more.

MTP: What issues does the hospitality industry currently face when it comes to sustainability?

I’ve worked in hospitality for 16 years now, all over the world. It’s been amazing to see the love and passion for hospitality and bartending spread across the globe, from the old stalwarts to new and developing markets, which give us a diversity of talents, experiences and ingredients that makes today an exciting time to be part of the global bartending industry.

But, with the growth of the global consumer culture we have seen negative effects of rapid expansion and development in areas that lack the infrastructure to handle volumes of waste and recycling, the strain on the production cycles of the world, and the growing issue of single-use plastic and their long-term place in our ecosystems and water tables.

MTP: Are operators becoming more conscious?

TE: I’ll always say that what happens in bars usually happens four years after it happens in kitchens, and I think the trend of locality and conscious operations is starting to sink in with a lot of bars in Australia and globally, where people are starting to come to terms with the realities of supply chains and end of life solutions for products, and where and how they fit into this chain.

MTP: Who are some people doing this already?

TE: There are some true standouts in regards to people leading the way for bars, from Native in Singapore where Vijay and his team are going so far as to paint their walls with the spent ingredients from their drinks and considering using recycled ingredients to plaster the walls in order to reduce the amount of air conditioning they use.

There’s Charlie Parkers in Sydney, where they are trying to create a environmental microcosm of a larger business model, taking waste from different areas of the Paddington precinct and trying to find as much use from each ingredient as possible in order to maximise produce and minimise any potential waste of energy, before composting and growing their own plants and ingredients from their waste.

While I haven’t had the chance to visit, the recent transformation of This Must Be The Place to This Must Be The End, taking a post-apocalyptic view of what ingredients might be available to us in the future if there is a catastrophic shift in the agricultural model we are accustomed to today, I think is an incredibly forward-thinking and fascinating approach to building a concept.

MTP: What are the things we can all do individually to help the environment around us?

TE: Think about shrinking your circle when it comes to what’s coming in and out of your venue. Is there an end of life solution for the waste and recycling in your area? How far away is your beer brewed, your coffee roasted, how are they shipped? Can you convince your produce suppliers to stop using plastic/polystyrene and replace them with your own re-usable containers?

Take stock of what you’re throwing away in terms of produce waste and try and reimagine ways of using ingredients that would otherwise go to the trash – use pickling, curing, roasting, drying and fermentation to establish a ‘larder’ of preserved ingredients which you can use further down the line.

And keep trying! There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, it changes in every location and with the needs and realities of your venues situation. And buy less corn. Corn is one of the worst possible things for the environment in terms of how it is farmed, both historically and presently, and corn syrup is in everything – try looking through your next shopping basket and seeing how much of your processed, packaged groceries are choc full of the stuff

MTP: What will happen if we don’t all adopt these practices?

TE: It’s easy to say it’s all doom and gloom and we’re all going to be swallowed up by a mountain of single use plastic, and the challenge ahead is insurmountable and impossible, and that these tiny actions couldn’t possibly amount to anything.

There’s a great quote by Douglas McMaster, of the Silo in Brighton, England, which is held up as a shining example of efforts in incorporating sustainable, waste-minimising and responsible practices into the daily operation of their restaurant

He says: “Zero waste isn’t one big idea, its thousands of little ideas, thousands of little problems you come across in trade” While each step might be tiny, it’s important to view each new challenge as an opportunity to implement better practices in your business. Finally, on a more selfish and purely operational note, consumers are already starting to be aware of these issues and will start to vote with their dollar. I already see bars and restaurants getting called out for still using plastic, for bad practices here in Hong Kong. You don’t want to be caught behind the eight ball, shamed and have your business negatively for something as tiny as a plastic straw, would you?

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