Kill the plastic! Going zero-waste with Alana Zubritz

Alana offered me a bite. This was the first time I was consciously eating a zero-waste meal: toast with goat cheese and pear – delicious, by the way. In guter Gesselschaft opened its doors one year ago as the first zero-waste cafe in Hamburg. I had the opportunity to sit down with Alana Zubritz, one of the two co-founders of this cozy place close to Feldstraße U-Bahn station.

Text: Sabela García Cuesta  / Photography: Teresa Enhiak Nanni

Alana, this toast is fantastic! So is it true that the cafe doesn’t produce any rubbish?

Everything you’re eating was bought without packaging: from the cheese to the salad and the bread. We buy it in bulk from local farmers or in big paper cartons. Actually, we bought a small can for rubbish just for fun and we realized we empty it only once a week. That is super rewarding!

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Where does most of your trash come from?

Surprisingly from cigarette butts and the women’s toilet. Broken cups or plates also go into the bin.

Many people dream about having their own cafe, was this the case for you, too?

Not exactly. Some years ago I was talking to my friend Ina, who at that time had a corporate job, and she told me she was looking to do something more meaningful. “Let’s bring together my background in finance and your creative ideas and projects,” she said. So we spent many days brainstorming and thinking about how to build a sustainable community and make money with it.

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Ina and Alana, both partners at the first zero-waste café in Hamnburg

So you were already active in terms of sustainability?

Yeah, one of the first projects in Hamburg was the Swap cafe for “fair fashion” where people could take part in a clothing exchange. By hosting those we got a lot of attention and even received an invitation to the NKlub to present there.

And what about zero-waste? Had you practiced it before in your private life?

Not consciously. I had just heard of it. We started trying it at home straight away as soon as we came up with the idea of the cafe.

How did the idea come up?

In one of my trips to Brighton, where I studied my Master’s on Design and Sustainability, a friend told me about the first café of this kind there: Silo Brighton.

Is sustainability a big topic in Brighton?

For sure. I thought it would be great to stay there after my Master’s but then I decided to come back home and spread my knowledge.

So how is sustainability doing in Hamburg these days?

I believe it is a growing subject and the interest is growing really fast. Three or four years ago no one knew about sustainability or paid much attention to it. Nowadays when people hear about zero-waste they understand almost straight away what it’s all about.

So do your guests visit your cafe because they know you are zero-waste?

I guess a big percentage of the customers come in because they are looking for good coffee and a place to have a bite. It is usually only when they are inside that they realize we are zero-waste and they tend to like the concept.

What is the most important lesson you learned from living zero-waste?

When you’re conscious about it, you realize that everything is packaged in plastic. Not just food, but also stuff like cosmetics – everything! But zero-waste doesn’t have to be a 100% dogma. It is more important to create a big impact, even if you might produce a little bit of trash. For instance, if you wanted to be completely zero-waste, you would use coconut oil instead of body lotion out of a bottle. But, in my case, I have very sensitive skin and I need my body lotion from the pharmacy. In the end, the impact that you make on the world is more important than spending your days on a yoga matt eating carrots, right?

 


 

YOUR HAMBURG TIPS

I wish there were more zero-waste places in Hamburg. I am happy, however, to see that every few months there are some interesting places popping up – unpackaged shops, second-hand stores like Humana… There is so much happening that goes in the right direction!
For a drink, I would always go to Möwe Sturzflug in Sankt Pauli. I’ve worked there on and off and I love sitting at the bar and thinking about nothing. I would order a New York Sour. It is like a Whiskey Sour with a little bit of red wine on top.

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