How to do Brunch with a Circular Economy Attitude

food waste garbologist on the go packaging save money Oct 25, 2022

We’re hearing ‘the circular economy’ a lot these days - it’s so hot right now. Whether popping up in your LinkedIn feed or touted on that product you just bought, my favourite topic is trending, big time.

But getting your head around what it actually is, and means, in practice can be daunting, particularly with lots of noise, opinion and vested interests.

In brief, it’s a systems based approach, using the principles of design, value retention and regeneration to solve complex, interwoven issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and currently most commonly associated with combating waste.

Yikes. Yikes. Yikes!

This is already sounding too big, overwhelming and abstract for my liking, and I've got a word limit here. So to give you a sense of how a circular economist thinks, I'm taking us out for the most important meal of the day - brunch, to give you a sense of my approach.

Let’s get started, I’m a hungry hippo today!

<<pause for seating>>

Right, I’m sat. 

First, I start with the end in mind. I dream up all the waste I could possibly create from this meal e.g. food leftover on my plate, and possibly single use straws, cutlery, packaging and serviettes.

Starting with food, the aim of the game is to ensure I’ll eat up everything I order.

Why, exactly?

Well of course, from an ethical and moral perspective, millions globally are affected by hunger, so it’s only the right thing to do.

But it’s broader than that. I want to honour and value the water, nutrients, labour and love that went into growing, producing, transporting and preparing the food on my plate. I also know that this particular café doesn't have any compost or food recycling service, so anything left has a one way ticket to landfill, where it will decompose and contribute to climate change and its value won't ever be returned to an agricultural system.


 And from a financial perspective, (yes, economy is in there for good reason!) well ….. I just paid for that meal! And, I love me an SME, so I’m not contributing to this café’s waste disposal bill - and to top it off, the chef doesn't have to see their hard work in a bin.

So to do this, I’ll be thinking about how hungry I am, looking at serving sizes on others’ plates, checking out the brownie section …. in case I need to leave room for dessert 😉 and order accordingly.


!! Dilemma !!


Can’t decide between two tempting items, or not too hungry? I’ll ask around the table to see if anyone’s up for sharing.

And for any worst case ‘incidents’ – aka leftovers, I keep a durable, reusable, fold up container to take anything extra home. The container eliminates more single use packaging making its short-lived debut into our world (stay backstage, pal). If I do need to ask for a container, that’s cool, but reusing something I already own is queen!

As for the non food: I can see real crockery and glassware are used. So I’m clear there.

I’ve noticed single use straws and serviettes though. Ideally, I don’t want these to even come near the table; they pose several issues - they're made from trees (put simply), and are only used for a few minutes, to me this doesn't value all the inputs needed to make them.

At the other end, they are ‘problematic’ in mainstream recycling systems (don’t worry, waaaaaaay more on this in another article, coming soon!). So I ask for no straw in my drink – but I do love a straw, so I carry a reusable cutlery set, with one inside, to compensate. And sometimes, if the space allows, I'll ask the venue if they'd consider using reusable straws for dine in, they're just a variation on the knife and fork - right?!


I've made a few modifications to the original set, which didn't include the ice cream spoons, metal straw and inherited heirloom serviette.


I also ask for no serviette. To avoid looking like Oscar the Grouch when I leave I tucked a reusable serviette into the set - rocking the Nana vibes today!

“But B!!!” I hear you say ……

“All this requires a fair bit of forethought, consideration, and thinking .... and preparation and brain space… even some packing even this case” – “and you didn’t really talk much about recycling or composting?”

Yep. And that is exactly the point.

Circular economy isn’t creating stench pile of rubbish, looking back at it, scratching your head, and wondering what to do with it. It isn't wishing for some magic recycling service to come and rescue our woes away.

Circular economy thinking is not an afterthought - it's something you embed, strategically, from the outset, for whatever passes through your hands, and is in your control. I can't help where the café sources its food or broadly what its practices are, but I can take responsibility for my decision making in the chain this morning.

So whether you're a procurement manager about to buy an extra 20,000 (unneeded) widgets, because it's the same price, an events manager about to put an extra stack of serviettes no-one will use on a table, or just tucking into your eggs benny on the weekend - the principles stay the same.

I realise in this example I haven't even touched important concepts like repair and remanufacturing, but I'll get to those in future content :)

So my takeaway message for now - it's about identifying, designing, collaborating, learning and procuring out as much 'waste' in the first place, being brave, having some gentle conversations to challenge the norm, and from time to time, withstanding the odd look or smirk.

And above all else, why create a problem to solve in the first place?


Bel is a devoted circular economist, coffee addict and has designed waste out of her meal, before you’ve even arrived.



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