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No matter the industry, the pandemic has unequivocally affected businesses one way or another. The Food & Beverage (F&B) industry, in particular, has gone through their own sets of nadir. From being on the brink of shutting down, slow sales, to downsizing. While brick and mortar stores have gone through their fair share of uncertainty, food deliveries have been on the rise.

Food delivery has increased by over 20 per cent in the last five years. And as the demand for food delivery increases, unfortunately so has the amount of plastic waste. Over the two months of circuit breaker alone, Singapore households generated an extra 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste. For comparison sake, that’s the equivalent of about 90 double-decker buses.

Prior to the pandemic, initiatives like the Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) movement led by grassroots organisations like Zero Waste SG were making steady progress. But as Covid-19 has brought hygiene and sanitation to the forefront of our priorities, factors like waste and sustainability are placed secondary. But it might be more apposite to place them in equal importance. Afterall, zoonotic diseases are a result of our interactions with the environment.

The role of food delivery platforms in sustainability

While consumers can practice sustainability by ordering from vegan or vegetarian-focused restaurants, food delivery platforms also have a responsibility to commit to sustainable practices. As Laura Kantor, the Marketing and Sustainability Director at foodpanda Singapore, shares, “Companies like ours have the opportunity to make the biggest difference in this space. We don’t have to leave it to the likes of NGOs and governments. By taking risks to set the benchmark for sustainability, we’ve been able to make huge changes. Whether this is saving millions of sets of cutlery across the region or introducing reusable deliveries. What we do, other players in the industry will always follow.”

Foodpanda sustainable food delivery Laura Kantor
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Reconciling sustainability with waste in the food delivery industry

For many, sustainability and food delivery may seem like opposing ends, but Kantor believes that there are plenty of opportunities to make food delivery more sustainable. She goes on to share, “Single-use containers are not our only option for food delivery. In April, we launched partnerships with reusable cutlery providers BarePack and Muuse. This gave customers the option to pick up their orders or have them delivered in reusable food packaging. We started out with a small pilot, and have already increased the number of participating restaurants by 80 per cent.”

GrabFood also teamed up with Muuse in October and is in a pilot phase with 10 restaurants, and Deliveroo has partnered with BarePack so customers can order their food in reusable. Through providers like BarePack and Muuse, customers just have to return their reusable containers to any participating restaurant and merchant (or opt for home collection services).

Foodpanda sustainable food delivery Laura Kantor
Credit: foodpanda

What can we do?

While food delivery platforms have embraced sustainability as a guiding post for their business decisions, the same should be expected from diners. The reality is, none of these changes matters if we as customers don’t play our part.

Last year alone, Singapore disposed of nearly three million tonnes of waste. About 30 per cent of was plastic waste, close behind with 20 per cent was food waste, and paper and cardboard waste at around 19 per cent.

As Kantor shares, “The biggest challenge we face is really around awareness and education – from a consumer and partner perspective. When we launched our Cutlery button in Jan 2018, I was really excited to see the results. But I couldn’t believe that the majority of customers (around 80 per cent) were still actively opting in.”

When it comes to food delivery, sustainability usually translates to making more environmentally-friendly dining choices. For customers, that either means ordering from vegetarian or vegan restaurants and cutting out our meat intake, or reducing plastic waste. The next time you place an order through your preferred dining app, consider opting out of single-use items, like cutlery and napkins, that you might already have at home. You can even re-use the plastic containers you’re given with a soapy rinse.

Once you get these habits down to a routine, you can consider making other adjustments. While every small step counts, there are certain lifestyle changes that will go a long way in its impact. For example, you could consider going to a restaurant directly with your reusable container to ask for takeaways. Or opt for more meatless meals when you’re cooking or dining out. You could also frequent your nearest bulk foods store, or bring your own bags on your grocery runs.

At the end of the day, being sustainable need not equate to inconvenience. Kantor advocates, “As long as we think of innovative ways that balance both, I believe we are well on our way to making the industry a sustainable one.”