Two Koskenkorva cocktails with an old school bartender

What a zero waste bar – or a bar which generates almost no waste at all – looks like?

Zero waste, sustainable development, carbon footprints, and climate change have us all talking. But what does zero waste translate into in practice in the job of a bartender? Koskenkorva Vodka Global Brand Ambassador Mikael Karttunen explains.

Recycling has become a daily routine in households, and waste sorting a matter of course. The people serving drinks behind bars also wrestle with the same problems.

Every lemon tossed in the bin, or an orange or piece of cucumber that has gone off tests the Earth’s carrying capacity. Bartenders may use tens of litres of freshly squeezed juice in cocktails every day. What happens to the peels of the citrus fruits? Does a piece of cucumber serving as decoration end up in biowaste? How to approach plastic, should you prefer glass bottles, and what’s the future of straws?  

Rather than wasting any time on hesitation, Koskenkorva Vodka Global Brand Ambassador Mikael Karttunen starts piling up the facts.

“Every bit of leftovers is recycled and reused. In alcohol products, we pay attention to their production process. The other ingredients of a cocktail are also selected according to the rule of minimum waste,” he says.  

Zero waste is clearly an issue that Karttunen takes to heart. And no wonder, given that all raw materials in the production of Koskenkorva are used in full. This is why every single time Karttunen talks about the brand he represents, he is also talking about sustainable development and zero waste.

But what does zero waste translate into in practice in the job of a bartender? 

Fruit and vegetables are used down to the last piece of peel 

Karttunen aims to use entirely edible decorations to avoid the accumulation waste. The list of permitted decorations includes berries, fruit and vegetables – such as cucumber and ginger – as well as edible flowers.

Koskenkorva cocktail with a smiling old school bartender

The essential oils in the peels of citrus fruits are squeezed directly in to drinks, and the decoration consists of only a small piece of the peel. All peels and any decorative cucumbers, slices of citrus fruit, segments of lime, berries, and vegetable slices left in customers’ glasses are recovered. 

They are collected in a container behind the bar, and the contents of the container are moved to a fridge every couple of hours. At the end of the day, the ingredients kept in cold storage are sorted and used in the preparation of the tasty syrups needed in bar tending.  

A delicious blueberry vodka from Finland.

Bring your own straw! 

Zero waste thinking is no longer confined to what we eat and drink. The volume of plastic waste is minimised, ingredients are purchased in larger batches, and individually packaged products are ordered only in the event that nothing else is available.

The long-term goal is to shift from mixers sold in glass bottles to products packaged in recyclable plastic bottles. The recycling process of PET bottles is more agile, and their carbon footprint is considerably smaller than that of glass bottles.  

All raw materials in the production of Koskenkorva Vodka are used in full.

Straws are also banned. If a customer wants their drink to be served with a black plastic straw, they are given a version made from bamboo, which they are then asked to carry with them in the future.

Even durable straws aren’t carbon neutral, but the harm they do in the long run is smaller than that of the millions of plastic straws which end up in the garbage patches in our oceans. 

A responsible drinks list 

The selection of drinks is planned in a way that allows bartenders to use all parts of a fruit. Whereas one cocktail comes with orange segments, another one contains freshly squeezed orange juice, and a third its peel or essential oils. Mixed drinks can be prepared beforehand and stored in refrigerators, meaning that no extra energy is wasted on cooling the ice. 

The training sessions organised for bartenders by Koskenkorva always account for zero waste thinking. 

Getting bartenders motivated should nevertheless be easy, since the volume of biowaste generated by a cocktail bar can grow up to tens of kilos during a single evening. The biowaste mound of a bar specialised in mojitos and other fruit-based cocktails can be manifold.  

A global phenomenon 

Zero waste is also a global effort. Ryan Chetiyawardana, the founder and bartender of Dandelyan Bar, named the best bar in the world in 2018, is one of the pioneers on this front.

“Although sustainable development and zero waste may seem a little dry as a phenomenon, following their principles doesn’t make a bar any less trendy or more difficult to approach – quite contrary, in fact” says Karttunen. Aiming for and complying with a zero waste policy can turn into a competitive edge in a world grappling with climate change. 

In Russia, recycling is still in its infancy. There is no deposit system, and zero waste has yet to become a household word. Koskenkorva Vodka’s Global Brand Ambassador Mikael Karttunen also visits Finland’s neighbouring country, training its bartenders on the secrets of sustainable development. The word of a respected brand is easy to believe, and in St. Petersburg, there are already dozens of bars with a staff familiar with the principles of sustainable development.  

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