Is ‘Zero Waste’ Bartending Even Possible?

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In recent years, bartenders have begun to decrease their carbon footprint as much as possible and there’s a really troubling reason for this. I know that scientists haven’t looked that far into outer space, but it appears that our planet is the only one in our galaxy with oxygen, water, sunlight and everything else we need to survive.

Hundreds of years of pollution has taken a major toll on our blue planet. The polar ice caps are melting, water is rising, air is practically unbreathable in places, and giant islands of garbage are floating in our oceans. It might be too late to save our planet, but at the very least, we can slow the process by creating less waste, recycling, and not wasting our resources.

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A seemingly simple (yet major) way bartenders, bars, and restaurants all over the country are attempting to limit waste is by no longer using cocktails straws. These tiny straws that most of us immediately take out of our drinks and toss on the bar are a tremendous problem to our planet. Many people are beginning to either not use anything at all or are switching to wooden stirrers. These replacements are biodegradable and compostable.


Even though they are tiny, tossing plastic straws away amounts to an astronomical amount of waste. You might want to sit down before you read this next sentence. On a daily basis, Americans alone throw away more than 500 million plastic straws. Yes, you read that right. That’s every single day. Where does that waste end up? Landfills, the side of the road, and even in our oceans where it injures and kills sea life. Getting rid of these seemingly unimportant stirrers will make a huge impact on our whole world.

Photo: Little City Lifestyle Photography [Getty Images]
It’s not just bartenders and restaurants attempting to limit waste. Black Cow Vodka is running a competition in which bartenders are required to limit waste while making cocktails. For the third year of its Gold Top Cup cocktail competition, the English vodka brand is challenging bartenders from around the world to create cocktails not only using less waste but using no waste at all.

The founders of the vodka and competition got the idea from the fact that the vodka itself is made from what many people believe to be a waste product (excess whey). “I consider Black Cow the World’s smoothest vodka, made purely from the milk of grass-grazed cow’s and nothing else,” says Paul Archard, found of Black Cow. New the US market, it’s been produced in Dorset, England since 2012. “Fresh whole milk makes an exceptionally smooth vodka with a unique creamy character.”

Archard looks forward to this time of year – holding the annual Gold Top Cup is a priority for the company, as they enjoy engaging with bartenders. “I find their creativity and love for the brand quite propelling.” He adds. “This year’s theme is, ‘zero-waste cocktails, a food and drink pairing.’“


Black Cow is passionate about preserving nature. This is the reason why they are running a no-waste cocktail competition. “The food and drink pairing is because we believe Black Cow is the highest quality vodka to pair alongside food – its lack of minerality, because it is made from just milk, means it supports and holds flavors very well,” says Archard.

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There are two fundamental areas in which Black Cow, as a brand, aim to limit waste. “Firstly, whey has historically been considered the problem child of the dairy industry,” says Archard. There is an excess produced in the cheese making process. “We take this marvelous undervalued by-product and turn it into a truly superior premium vodka. We take great pride in our economical use of these precious materials.”

Secondly, when developing the food and drinks they use in the distillery’s Bar and Kitchen in West Dorset, they utilize local, responsibly sourced ingredients, with consideration to the wider implication of their use. “We have created our brand home with hand crafted or recycled furniture and fittings found around us,” says Archard. “We pride ourselves on the quality of our merchandise, using accomplished craftsmen, and where possible we use natural, locally sourced, sustainable materials.”

Archard doesn’t believe sustainability is only important in the distilling world. “I think it is should be an integral part of all decision making in all businesses and across all sectors.” He believes that there ate many ways for bartenders to make simple changes to limit their waste. “I think it largely depends on the bar or bartender – but I would imagine that some bars are throwing away an eye-watering amount of ingredients.”

There is huge scope for this – it’s about techniques and a different way of thinking. “That makes the most out of the ingredients you use, the way the bar is set up – and how you treat guests,” says Archard. “The fundamentals are, using seasonal produce, recycling where possible, and maximum utilization of ingredients. Out of this discipline, it is amazing what new wonderful things can come out of this way of thinking.”

You don’t need to enter this contest or even be a professional bartender to lower your carbon foot print. There are many things home bartenders can do as well. “I would encourage bartenders to strengthen their drink programs through more economical and ethical means,” says Archard. “Vodka is the largest spirit category in the world – that means there is more vodka drunk in bars around the world than any other spirit.”

Archard believes that brands that are making more of an effort to lower their carbon footprint by creating less waste should be the obvious choice for those wanting to make a substantial step towards supporting sustainability in cocktails on their drinks menus. “In doing this – the information and theory will be passed onto their customers,” says Archard. “In addition to this, their drinks will be far more delicious.”