In our conventional, resource-intensive food and building industries, 'waste-free' may seem like an alien concept, which makes projects like Australia's Greenhouse all the more impressive. Touted as a waste-free, strawbale structure built and operated sustainably on Sydney's waterfront, the Greenhouse is also a restaurant that serves local produce that is processed on-site -- they churn their own butter, grind their own flour, roll their own oats -- and they compost all of their organic waste on-site too.
According to Greenhouse's website and Jetson Green, the eco-resto uses something called the "Productive Building Method". It's a permaculture-styled building concept developed by Australian designer Joost Bakker which uses non-toxic, recycled and recyclable materials, is easily assembled and dismantled, and is intended to be a "productive place that can harvest food, water and energy, and can improve the local environment for people and animals rather than exploiting it".
It starts from the ground up with a careful selection of building materials. Here, a light-gauge steel frame is employed, with a layer of plywood cladding for extra thermal protection. The walls and roof cavities are filled in by dropping in locally-sourced straw bale, with the steel frame locking them in place. It's a simple enough system that it doesn't require any specialized skill to build out.
Inside, the restaurant also utilizes magnesium oxide (MgO) board for its walls that's impregnated with Bio-Char so that it stores carbon. Waste-free is extended down to the details: urinals are waterless, and furnishings are derived from recycled materials like old aluminum piping, leather and fencing wire.
The external cladding is made from corrugated iron that is also covered with a steel mesh-supported vertical garden and terracotta pots of strawberry plants, creating a lovely textured wall. On top of that, there's a rooftop garden that's fertilized by the organic compost produced by the Greenhouse kitchen, and is planted in the restaurant's used olive oil bins. The greens from the roof are used in the food. The oil used for cooking is transformed into biodiesel that fuels the building.
The waste-free concept extends to the food, which is supplied via recyclable or returnable means from local dairy farms, wheat growers and wine sellers. Working with a local company, Greenhouse also kegs their own carbonated water to make their tonic, soda and cola. No paper menus here either -- all the offerings are painted graffiti-like on the walls.
All said, the whole life cycle of this clever zero-waste structure, its operation, services and products has been taken into consideration -- and now it's on tour. As a prototype, Greenhouse is intended to be a temporary installation, and will be transported via its gorgeously repainted shipping containers to a number of European cities on its travels (Milan is next), where it will be reassembled using local materials and serve local fare. If the long lines at Sydney were any indication, 'waste-free' restauranting may be here to stay. Sign up on their website to keep up with the next tour dates.