With an eco-house made from 85% waste material, a zero-waste restaurant and the only city to be represented by the Green Party. Skip Hire magazine asks – is Brighton the greenest city in the UK?
Skip Hire Magazine interviewed RWM headlining speaker and Resource Goddess Cat Fletcher, one of the leading consultants from the Waste House and Douglas McMaster, owner of the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant.
Made up of no less than 2,000 carpet tiles, 500 bicycle inner tubes, 4,000 VHS tapes, 19,800 toothbrushes, 1.8 tonnes of denim and 10 tonnes of chalk waste, Brighton’s Waste House is a fully working, low energy, permanent structure.
The house, designed by sustainable architect and senior university lecturer Duncan Baker-Brown was built with a clear intention – to prove that waste has the potential to be valuable.
The project, built in the studios of City College Brighton and Hove, took a year to construct, engaged over 300 students and apprentices and has close relationships with Brighton City Council, local arts organisations and construction companies.
Cat says, “In 2012, architects from the University of Brighton wanted to build a sustainable house. Duncan reached out to people in the local community who had some interest in sustainability and the council put Duncan in touch with me. He was very keen on trying to use second-hand materials. I suggested that we could go one step further and incorporate really common household waste which couldn’t be reused.
“All the strategic people in the city council agreed to work with the architects, the engineers and the university to try and facilitate it being able to happen. We were really lucky that the planning officers agreed to work co-operatively with us. It could have been a barrier, but it wasn’t. Everyone agreed to work collaboratively to create some waste innovation.
“The idea was developed with Duncan and the consultation with the engineers to get a grip of the weight of things we were collecting, what they were made of and the flammability – everything they needed to know.
“I wanted to pick things that weren’t recyclable and in large volumes; video tapes, floppy discs and CDs. All the video rental shops went bust in the UK over the last couple of years and I knew that when they were closing down, they were skipping tens of thousands of DVD boxes for example.”
To collect the large volumes of waste items for the project, it was necessary to enlist the help of the Brighton community. Cat continues, “The materials were collected in a variety of ways; using the local Freegle group and simply posting messages and asking for things. I asked for video tapes once and got given 15,000. People were so excited. They were arriving with van and car loads, bags, boxes and shopping trolleys full of video tapes. It was totally insane.
“I also wanted to use toothbrushes, so I did a big appeal. Schoolchildren used to come on the building site and part of the deal was, when they came, they had to bring an old toothbrush. Unintentionally, the kid’s mums would forget on the morning, they would panic and then go to the corner shop and buy a brand new one. So the kids were turning up with new toothbrushes. So I was freaking out like, ‘I’m trying to stop people buying new stuff!’
“I’d collected hundreds by then, which was just a bucketful – I realised it was going to be a tedious process, so thought laterally about it – ‘where could I get thousands of toothbrushes that were genuine waste?’
“I approached a cabin service company who confirmed that old toothbrushes, whether used or not, get disposed of. They were happy to collect them for me by getting their cleaners to separate them. They collected 20,000 toothbrushes in less than a week.
“This just demonstrated to me the scale of toothbrush waste. There are 100,000 flights a day around the world and half of them give out toothbrushes, so there’s literally millions.
“One of the great things about the waste house is – because of the toothbrushes in the wall, I am able to tell the story and demonstrate the hidden waste that goes on in the world where individuals aren’t responsible. There are huge systems in place that are generating completely unnecessary waste on a massive scale.”
Douglas McMaster, owner of the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant, Silo, located in North Laine, Brighton opened his doors to the public a year ago after seeing the model work in Australia. The design of the restaurant was based on materials sourced from Cat Fletcher, including table legs to plastic bags for plates.
Silo is a ‘pre-industrial food system’ based on the concept of a more natural and primitive diet, choosing food with no processing. It is designed back to front – with the waste bin in mind. The waste production process has been eradicated by choosing reusable delivery vessels, sourcing local ingredients that generates no waste, trading with farmers direct and composting scraps and trimmings on-site. The restaurant also churns its own butter, makes its own almond milk, brews its own beer and soft drinks, rolls its own oats and mills its own flour.
Douglas says, “I was lucky enough to have a mentor, named Joost Bakker, a designer and an artist I met in Australia, who grew up in Holland, next to a landfill site. Whether that had some sort of subliminal effect on him, I don’t know – but he grew up into an artist who turned waste materials into artworks. He got proposed to make a restaurant made of waste materials, which he did in Sydney many years ago. I happened to meet him at that point and we shared similar ideas; I was a chef and he was an artist.
“Joost suggested a restaurant that generates zero-waste. That’s how it happened, a collaboration. The Silo in Melbourne was the first zero-waste venue in the world. I then decided to bring it to the UK. I brought it back, bigger and better and the concept has grown somewhat.
“When we receive ingredients into Silo, they have no packaging and if there is, it has to be completely biodegradable. Things that are sourced in the UK are fairly easy, but things not from here, such as nuts, coffee, spices and specialist ingredients are hard to get. The rules and regulations, such as things that are shipped from China have to be airtight and sealed, so are usually packaged in cheap plastic, which is non-biodegradable – that’s the hard bit.
“A zero-waste restaurant just isn’t one initiative, it’s made of a thousand little ones – such as how do we get bicarbonate of soda? How do we deal with receipts? We have initiatives such as using frying oil to make candles, making our own soap on-site and electrolysing water instead of buying in chemicals.
“It’s a sustainable restaurant and journey, it’s all about the ecology and story of zero-waste, the pre-industrial, pureness and integrity. It’s about doing something that means something and will be remembered in 50 years; something to make the world a better place and that does apply to the restaurant world.
“Food is a sustenance of life and a restaurant is an expression of that, so it’s a very key part of industry to be taken seriously. Think how many restaurants are in the world – they could make everyone start thinking more consciously about things, whether it would be waste, health and nutrition, direct trade or energy.
Cat adds, “The Waste House turns the whole kind of impression that people have about waste on its head. The architect design is brilliant and the house appeals to the general public. It makes it much easier to relate to for a lot of people about the whole concept of waste prevention. Nearly 5,000 people have visited the waste house in the last year and everybody is incredibly enthusiastic about it. They love it and are really inspired by it. How can you not like waste prevention when it’s such a positive thing?”
Douglas adds, “We’re essentially the most sustainable restaurant in the world. The local community which is known for being quite green are helpful. Local businesses and residents come and put their natural waste into our compost machine, which is a great thing and community-driven.”
A University of Brighton spokesperson said, “Protecting and renewing our shared natural and built environment is the greatest challenge facing our planet and all universities have an important part to play in meeting this challenge. Our aim at Brighton is to be a truly sustainable university in everything that we do.”