NEW YORK - Natural wines are the big attraction at Rhodora in Fort Greene, but even more noteworthy is what’s missing there: trash.
"We're the first zero waste natural wine in the country," says co-owner Henry Rich.
That's means nothing goes to a landfill; everything at the restaurant is either composted or recycled.
There are obvious substitutions like stainless steel straws for plastic ones, reusable beeswax paper in place of plastic wrap, and hand towels instead of paper towels. But Rich explains there are unexpected eco-friendly solutions too.
"We bought a machine that electrifies salt and turns it into a cleaning solution, so we eliminate harmful solvents and don't have to buy bottles of cleaning products," he said.
Wine corks are sent to a special company that upcycles them, cardboard boxes are shredded, then fed into a composter. Some of the food is delivered on bikes, and all of it comes in recyclable packaging, which has been a challenge to source.
"It’s extremely difficult to get vendors to ship to you without plastic and other non-recyclable materials, so it’s very limiting determining who u can work with," Rich said.
That's why the menu thus far is limited to cheeses, pickled vegetables, a salad and tinned fish like sardines and cockles, Spanish tapas style. The fish comes in aluminum that Rich says is "very easy to recycle, actually the lowest energy for recycling."
For items that do need to be shipped a far distance like some wines-the restaurant invests in carbon negative initiatives like planting trees, or investing in clean-burning stoves in developing countries.
And for the little bit of trash that is collected, in say, the restrooms, Rhodora contracts with New Jersey-based Terracycle, known for recycling hard-to-recycle items.
In its first few weeks of operation, Rich says customers have been supportive of the waste-free concept, but he understands others will take a little convincing.
"People are used to having garbage bins follow them around their entire lives, they're always at arms reach and we don’t have that here and if people are frustrated here that’s fine we’ll explain what we’re trying to do and why," he said.
The goal is to add more menu items over the coming weeks and months as the staff works to find suppliers willing to package and deliver products in line with Rhodora's sustainability mission.