man pulling weeds from the ground
Design, Food, Wellbeing | Nov 08, 2016

Zero-waste hero

Joost Bakker’s cleaner, greener future

The son of a Dutch bulb farmer, Joost Bakker left Europe for Australia together with his family at the age of nine. Pursuing a curiosity for flowers and botany from an early age, his practice soon evolved and today he can be described as a florist, installation artist, designer and restaurateur with a keen interest in architecture often merging ground-breaking technology with agricultural traditions. Here, Christiana Söderberg takes a closer look at Bakker’s work in anticipation of his new project at Eastland outside Melbourne.

A proponent for sustainability, The New York Times named Bakker “The poster boy for zero waste living” last year. He is keenly aware of the importance of embracing new technology as well as employing the knowledge of age-old practices in an integrated manner; an approach illustrated by his use of nutrient-dense soil rather than hydroponics for intensive farming in size-restricted areas like urban rooftops. Bakker sets an example for the entire industry; from world-renowned restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, which has followed his lead in installing composting units, to McDonald’s at the other end of the culinary spectrum, which has switched from plastic containers to traditional kegs for large scale milk delivery.

Bakker is a believer in leading by example and his visions for a more sustainable future are as extensive as they are impressive. Today he continues to collaborate with city councils on innovative ideas, dreaming to one-day fly in over Melbourne to find a city covered in thriving green rooftops.

man sitting next to a table of meat and bones
tractor driving through a field

The pop-up Greenhouse restaurants, built with environmentally conscious materials such as non-toxic glue, have already had a noticeable impact on cities across Australia including Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. In 2011, the lush garden at the Greenhouse rooftop in Sydney welcomed visitors and bees alike, while a vertical garden of potted plants adorned the exterior of the structure. Sustainability also plays a large role in the actual running of the restaurants with food and beverages being served in returnable containers and kegs, as well as electricity being supplied off-grid by a bio-generator on site that converts cooking oil and fat into power. A practice that one former apprentice integrated into his own venture – moving on to set up zero waste restaurant, bakery and brewery called Silo outside Brighton in the south of England.

man carrying a bouquet of flowers
“Bakker is keenly aware of the importance of embracing new technology as well as employing the knowledge of age-old practices.”

Combining creativity and playfulness with an astute awareness for the environment, Bakker understands that a more sustainable future also needs to be a matter of pleasure and excitement. For one commissioned installation, he asked a wine producer client whether he could “grow the table” and the result three months later was a 60-metre-long board overflowing with lush greens. For the event, Bakker also commissioned a glass blower to make serving plates out of the brand’s old wine bottles. Not only drawn to tackle everyday challenges in an urban setting, but also pressing design issues affecting other parts of the country, Bakker has also turned his hand to designing a house to provide protection from bushfires, which are becoming increasingly common across Australia, with his prototype being able to withstand conditions of 1000ºC. Very much aware of the power of beauty, he isn’t afraid to use aesthetics to engage people with a more conscious way of living.

man standing in front of a van with trees on top
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