Throughout the pandemic, when dining-in was alternately a possibility or a no-go, Singaporeans inevitably turned to takeaway orders and food delivery to save time, support local businesses and of course, eat good food.
However, the last time we ordered more takeaway and food deliveries, it came at a cost to the environment. During last year’s circuit breaker, Singapore generated an estimated 1,334 tonnes more plastic waste, according to a study conducted by six alumni students from the National University of Singapore.
But with the pandemic continuing, and WFH the new normal, how can we minimise plastic waste from our food orders?
As an alternative to the usual plastic deliveries, environmental activist Woo Qiyun, 24, recommends we switch to food delivery services that deliver food in reusable containers and cups.
“I know it will take some time to get used to but it’s a cultural shift that I believe we should get comfortable with,” adds Woo who started Theweirdandwild, a popular Instagram page on environmental issues.
Companies like Muuse offer a selection of partner eateries you can order from and will deliver your meal in reusable containers. For BarePack, you can opt for deliveries with reusables on foodpanda, GrabFood, Deliveroo with a subscription package.
For both these services, the reusables will be recollected on a later date to be cleaned and used for another delivery.
The idea of “sharing food ware” is also suggested by Associate Professor of Business at James Cook University Singapore Pengji Wang. An expert on food waste and the circular economy, she said that studies have shown that sharing economies can reduce plastic waste by up to 92%.
One option is to simply refuse disposable cutlery whenever possible.
“Even if we really need the plastic food container from the restaurants, we could at least try to minimise the use of single-use plastic cutlery,” Associate Professor Wang said.
She added that Deliveroo, foodpanda and GrabFood have added in this option based on an initiative with World Wide Fund For Nature in 2019.
‘Bring your own’ or BYO refers to bringing your own reusable container or bag to collect food from restaurants or hawker stalls.
Environmental activist Pamela Low, 25, recommends using a reusable bottle or cup when buying drinks, a food container for dishes and a regular or thermal reusable bag to everything home.
“Hawkers and restaurants are usually happy to follow as they get to save on packaging and they would thank you for saving waste too,” adds Low, creator of Instagram page tingkats.sg.
Alternatively, Woo suggests using a tingkat, or tiffin carrier, for your meals. “Bring-your-own! My family has a tingkat that allows us to stack [food items],” she says.
A tingkat, or tiffin carrier, is a reusable set of stackable containers that can be carried as one unit.
Bonus tip: Don’t switch to paper-based non-reusables
Paper bags, boxes and cups may seem like good alternatives to their plastic versions, but they too can have a negative impact on the environment.
Associate Professor Wang explained that compared to a sharing economy based on reusables, paper-based packaging generates more paper waste, nitrogen oxides and consumes far more water.
There are a number of ways you can reuse certain plastics after a takeaway or delivered meal – such as starting a miniature plant garden or as storage and gift packaging.
Low suggests cleaning the containers for recycling or repurposing them to store items at home or for gardening projects.
However, she and Woo warned that single-use plastic packaging is not meant for food especially if they’re hot food items. Styrofoam boxes are also a big no-no for storing food. The Singapore Food Agency has a resource on safe uses for plastic food packaging.
If you have no use for the plastics you’ve collected, these blue bins could come in handy. Plastic bags and some clean plastics can be placed in the recycling bin.
However, the National Environment Agency does not permit contamination of these bins with plastics containing food and advises against disposing of styrofoam in the bin.
Woo said: “[Use the blue bin] for food-related plastics but please make sure they are absolutely squeaky clean and free of all your gravy too!”
Text by: Alexander Kyle Thirumaran/AsiaOne