My Oulu: Oulu is innovating more sustainable events – reusable containers were a success at Irish Festival

Betty (left) and Holly Conolly of Zestii Kitchens working at Irish Festival of Oulu. Pics: Zestii


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Alongside the Oulu2026 program runs the “Europe’s most sustainable capital of culture” project, which is looking for, among other things, more efficient ways to recycle waste at events and further utilize it afterwards. This year, a total of nine innovation tests were started. One of them will continue until the beginning of next year.

There has been a variety of tests, from responsible ways to put out cigarettes to offering carpools to the festival audience, alternative energy sources in challenging locations and energy-efficient storage of festival supplies.

Recycling worked well at Irish Festival

One of the innovation tests was done recently at the Irish Festival of Oulu by Zestii Kitchens, a food collective from Oulu. It aims to replace disposable takeaway containers with reusable containers.

The use of recyclable containers is normally based on a deposit system, but at the Irish Festival concert in Valve, they didn’t have a deposit. Instead, Zestii relied on marketing materials and conversations with customers, and the results were encouraging. Almost all containers were returned during the evening: 98% of food boxes, 94% of bowls and 88% of cups.

Resusable Kamupak containers were tested at the Irish festival of Oulu.

Holly Conolly, co-founder of Zestii Kitchens, is very pleased with the results.

”The test we conducted was to investigate what sort of response the reusable Kamupak takeaway food containers received and also how likely people were to return their containers after use. We had predicted there would be some loss of containers, but we were delighted that there was virtually no loss at all. Plus feedback from customers was heavily in favour of launching a reusable container scheme here in Oulu. We concluded that Oulu is ready for this kind sustainable packaging innovation!” Connolly says.

”We had predicted there would be some loss of containers, but we were delighted that there was virtually no loss at all.”

According to Conolly, the co-operation with both the event and the city of Oulu went smoothly.

”Partnering with the Irish Festival helped us reach many more people through their marketing channels, plus we were able to introduce and test the Kamupak product with customers in Oulu. Cooperation with the brilliant festival team was both easy and fun and it provided us with very valuable experience and data. We were also incredibly grateful to the city of Oulu for providing with the funds to make this test happen”, says Conolly.

“Oulu goes green”

Anna-Kaisa Kettunen, producer of the Irish Festival of Oulu, is also satisfied with the experiment.

”From our point of view, it went really well. One of our slogans is ’Oulu goes green’, and it doesn’t mean just the color or Ireland, we want to be an environmentally friendly event”, says Kettunen.

According to Kettunen, the festival will continue to work for that goal next year.

”Hopefully, we will be able to use [reusable containers] even more. This time we also served backstage food for the artists using these same containers, and at least that will be expanded next year”, Kettunen says.

”No more single use plastic”

Sustainability is one of the key values of Zestii Kitchens. According to Conolly, three main areas the company wants to influence are happy people (diversity and inclusion are a top priority), fair trade (the cooks are paid fairly and can control their own pricing) and a healthier planet.

”We can’t solve all of the problems in the food industry, of course, but we feel we can have a positive impact by doing things a bit differently.”

“Sustainability is incredibly important to us as a business. We can’t solve all of the problems in the food industry, of course, but we feel we can have a positive impact by doing things a bit differently. This is the really exciting part of starting a business for us”, Conolly says.

“Reduction in food packaging waste is something that we can influence by providing either compostable or reusable containers. No more single use plastic is our dream for the food industry!”

Almost all resuable containers were returned at Irish Festival.

Zestii also wants to encourage a healthy local micro-economy by keeping a flow of money within the local community, from local people to local cooks to local suppliers.

“This gives our customers a different choice, our cooks creative independence to start on their own entrepreneurial journey and our local suppliers a direct access to individual customers”, Conolly says.

Zestii Kitchens is also a supplier of the Arctic Food Lab network.

“We want to educate our cooks and customers about the wonderful produce of Northern Finland and incorporate the rich supply of local, seasonal ingredients into our international menus”, Conolly says.

Zestii Kitchens plans to continue testing and presenting new products at various events. The next one is the Taiwanese Noodle Bar pop-up at Pure Maku restaurant, which will take place on Sunday, November 27.

The goal of the Europe’s most sustainable capital of culture project is to have as carbon-neutral events as possible in 2026 in the Oulu region. As the pandemic has slowed down some of the innovation testing, the project is likely to continue until autumn 2023. New innovation search will be opened and announced at the beginning of 2023.