Low-Impact Dining

Richard Cornish on why restaurants are signing up to the new Green Table program

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Restaurants are great big energy-gulping, waste-producing behemoths that, on average, use 2,200 kilolitres of water, chew through $26,000 worth of electricity and account for two thirds of the 3.3 million tonnes of food thrown out in Australia every year. But restaurants and catering businesses, by their very nature, need to understand the Zeitgeist of their customers and now the industry has embarked on a new program to green up its act.

Green Table is a nationwide initiative, based on a Canadian model, which certifies food businesses that follow strict criteria to reduce their use of water and energy and that increase the practices of recycling rubbish and composting waste food. Restaurants, cafes and caterers which meet the criteria are permitted to display a sticker of a white tick on a green background.

The team at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, one of Australia’s best restaurants, has quietly developed a 21-point-plan, now making it one of the nation’s greenest restaurants. From using recycled paper for its menus and the packaging of its take-away dishes, to sourcing produce from sustainable suppliers, the entire organisation has changed its business culture.

Another Melbourne restaurateur leading the way with Green Table is BCOZ Organic Dining’s (now closed) Rod Barbey. His cooking demonstrations have been certified organic with the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) and he was one of the first chefs in the country to start composting his kitchen and table scraps. “I’m lucky,” he says. “I take the buckets up to the community garden compost bins that are just up the road.”

Collecting kitchen waste for compost is one of the key parts of the program and one of the greatest challenges. “It’s something we’re working on with restaurants, waste companies and councils,” says Restaurant and Catering Australia’s Joanne Sanderson.

At the Taste of the Country cafe in the Hunter Valley’s Pokolbin, manager Tanya Broad sees participation in the Green Table scheme as part of a bigger picture. She describes not only the worm farm they use to dispose of their kitchen scraps but also the recycling bins they asked their landlord to install, which are now used by the other cafes in the shopping centre.

“The whole process has educated the staff in green issues,” she says. And she believes the flow-on effect extends to their patrons. “Since we have started employing these practices we have inspired changes in the thinking of our customers who may have businesses of their own, such as farming, winemaking or manufacturing. We are also saving money. We’re spending less on stock, electricity and water. It’s great.”

RICHARD CORNISH is a widely published food writer and author who is also the creative director (regional and sustainability) of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.