Imagine a restaurant without trash cans. No single-use straws or takeout containers, no plastic packaging that can’t be composted or recycled, no cheaply made decor destined for a landfill, no garbage bags full of food waste.
That’s what Chef Doug McMaster thought about when he created Silo in London. Silo is often regarded as the world’s first fully zero-waste restaurant, and the finest of its kind. The staff at Silo do far more than just recycle—they try to repurpose or consume everything that comes through their doors.
“Waste is a failure of imagination,” Chef Doug says. His imagination runs wild in his restaurant, as he and his team look for new ways to repurpose “waste” into food, compost, or reusable items. Like the Japanese art of kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold, Silo’s mission is to rethink “trash” into something beautiful.
A Restaurant Without a Bin
The concept of Silo was born not in London, but Australia, where Chef Doug began his career. He was inspired by artist Joost Bakker, a zero-waste advocate who proposed “not having a bin.” Chef Doug started with a zero-waste pop-up cafe in Sydney in the early 2010s, and then began his first zero-waste restaurant in Melbourne.
His time in Australia gave him the experience he needed to perfect the zero-waste concept. At age 26, Chef Doug returned to the UK, where he founded Silo in Brighton before relocating to London. Now Silo is world-famous for its innovations in waste reduction and commitment to uniting resourcefulness with fine dining.
While many sustainability-minded professionals look to the future for innovative technologies, Chef Doug prefers a “pre-industrial” mindset. He wants to remove unnecessary processing and “preserve the nutrients and integrity of the ingredients.” He believes that working with “whole” foods shows respect to the environment, our bodies, and the food itself.
Reducing More Than Just Food Waste
Silo’s zero-waste policy applies to all waste, not just food. Their dinnerware, furniture, light fixtures, and fittings are all made from “up-cycled” materials that would otherwise be thrown out.
The tables are made from food packaging waste and recycled leather, while the bar stools are made of mycelium that is fed used brewing grains, grown in molds, and baked solid. Light fixtures are made from dried seaweed, mycelium, or crushed wine bottles. Plastic bags become dinner plates. Glass bottles are crushed and turned into crockery. Even the floors are natural, compostable cork.
Silo only accepts deliveries in reusable containers like crates or urns. They recycle or compost the packaging, so nothing ends up in the landfill.
Instead of using gas, Silo cooks over a wood fire, with logs from a regenerative, zero-waste system. Their supplier practices “coppicing,” which means he only harvests logs as quickly as they can regrow. Excess wood becomes wood chips, used for smoking food or at local parks.
Chef Doug also cuts back on carbon emissions by processing much of their food on-site. With their own flour mill, brewery, butter churn, and a nose-to-tail policy, the staff at Silo need few deliveries. They work closely with farmers so there are few, if any, “middle men” in the process of bringing food from the farm to the table.
A Different Take on Fine Dining
Fine dining has a fraught history with wastefulness. Guests often expect their food to be as beautiful as it is delicious, to only use the “best” parts of the animal vegetable. The result is that huge amounts of usable ingredients are thrown away.
Chef Doug believes that fine dining is guilty of wasting as much as 80% of food, as opposed to the 50% that average restaurants waste. Silo is his attempt to prove that fine dining does not have to be wasteful.
The menu is limited and often changing depending on supply. You’ll probably start your meal with a “Siloaf” served with butter, bread baked from scratch on-site. You might enjoy leeks cooked in cuttlefish sauce, a sauce made with surplus cephalopod products and aged. Or pickles made from Japanese knotweed, an invasive species in England. Other invasive species that show up on the menu include crayfish and fallow deer venison.
Silo’s zero-waste policy is on full display with their Siloaf ice cream sandwich, made from the byproducts of bread and butter. Buttermilk becomes dulce de leche, which then turns into ice cream. The wafer is made from excess bran, mixed with brown butter, oats, and sugar. The sandwich is topped with a sauce made from fermented waste bread, turned into a salty-sweet caramel.
The experience is an upscale restaurant with a sometimes unconventional menu, one that inspires creativity and encourages guests to expand their imagination.
When Waste Happens
Chef Doug admits that, despite all his efforts, waste sometimes happens. An appliance breaks and cannot be recycled or repurposed. Somewhere in the supply chain, someone includes a single-use piece of packaging. Mistakes happen, and the restaurant ends up with little scraps of plastic.
Silo calls this “alien waste.” They don’t hide the bits of waste they accumulate. Staff members keep the alien waste on display for teaching purposes, and Chef Doug plans on creating a modern art sculpture with the pieces when they’ve collected more.
Chef Doug also partners with other sustainability-minded professionals in his area to help repurpose his alien waste. Take Clement Knives, who recycles plastic into the handles of chef-grade knives. Or Smile Plastics at the White Building Market, who turn plastics into beautiful kitchen accessories.
Silo staff look forward to a day when they have no more alien waste. With a little more imagination and some systemic changes to the supply chain, we could see a day when waste is just that—alien.