Danny Colls grabs a small compostable cup from the shelf behind the dining bar. Inside is a wad of cling wrap, a lollipop stick, a rubber band, a pen spring and a bottle cap. “You’d be surprised what people leave on tables,” says Colls, Silo’s co-owner. More surprising is that this is the only waste accumulated by the busy inner-city café in a week. There are no trashcans. No piles of plastic packaging or cardboard containers. No discarded food scraps.
Silo, the brainchild of Melbourne hospitality stalwart Colls and environmental artist and designer Joost Bakker, is possibly the world’s first truly waste-free café. Whereas other waste-free businesses rely on municipal recycling to earn that label, Silo is a closed-loop operation. “All of our produce comes in reusable plastic crates,” explains Colls. “Our milk comes in 20-litre tins. Our coffee comes in tins.”
Silo avoids the recycling bin by developing relationships with local organic and biodynamic food producers, who deliver supplies to the café in reusable crates, kegs and containers. Silo’s chefs also eliminate the need for manufacturers’ packaging by preparing everything from scratch – milling their own flour, baking their own bread, making their own yogurt.
The food waste they create goes into a dehydrator, tucked in the café’s back alley. This washing machine-sized appliance runs for six or seven hours at a time, turning 100 kg of organic matter (table scraps, coffee grinds, cardboard and paper) into 10 kg of sterile, nutrient-rich fertilizer. “The compost goes back to Joost’s farm to grow carrots and tulips,” says Colls.
Although “cooking” organic matter may seem a bit odd, Colls explains that South Koreans have dehydrated their food waste since the 1980s, when their government banned organics from landfills. The dehydrator uses about 6.7 kilowatts of energy per day, not much more than the small Salamander grill in Silo’s kitchen, which uses 4.6 kilowatts daily. Although the dehydrator is hidden, the staff exhibits a saucer of the brown, mushroom-scented fluff that it produces on top of a display case of mustard-and-cheese sandwiches and chocolate muffins.