Circuit breaker: Demand in meal takeaways sparks concerns over single-use packaging waste

Don't forget to bring your own container and bag when taking away your meal.

Sumita Thiagarajan | April 22, 2020, 06:10 PM

The world experiences a surge in demand for single-use packaging as a result of movement restrictions and hygiene concerns due to Covid-19 pandemic.

To limit the spread of Covid-19 in Singapore, all food establishments are only allowed to offer takeaways and delivery service since the start of the circuit breaker period on April 7.

This change in consumption habits has driven an increase in demand for disposables as well as alternatives to tapao (take away) meals among Singaporeans.

More opt for food delivery

Mothership reached out to the three main food delivery companies in Singapore, of which, foodpanda and Deliveroo have responded to our queries.

According to Luc Andreani, the Managing Director at foodpanda Singapore, the company has seen a sustained increase in demand for food delivery as well as items like fresh fruits, groceries and household essentials since Jan 2020.

Andreani also confirmed that the surge in food delivery and pick-up orders have also led to an increase in plastic waste and disposable packaging.

Similarly, Deliveroo has also seen an increase in food delivery orders on their platform. According to the spokesperson, there has been an average of 20 percent increase in orders between February and April 2020 as a result of Covid-19 and other marketing campaigns.

Despite an increase in food delivery, both companies told Mothership that they were happy to share that plastic cutlery was not commonly requested for the orders as plastic cutlery is not included by default and customers have to opt-in for disposable cutlery.

On average, Andreani said that foodpanda only sees 20 percent of its customers request for plastic cutlery for their orders.

As for Deliveroo, over 90 percent of their meals are delivered without cutlery, according to the spokesperson.

That said, some vendors or riders might still include plastic cutlery as a form of service even though the customers did not opt for it.

More demand in food packagings

Besides food delivery platforms, food vendors have also stocked up more plastic containers in preparation for the increase in takeaway orders.

According to CNA, food packaging supplier, Dillic International, experienced a 30 per cent surge in orders for their generic food packaging from the food and beverage (F&B) outlets after the circuit breaker period was announced.

Apart from F&B outlets, hotels, dormitories, and supermarkets have also placed orders for more food packaging products.

Another food packaging supplier SEA Trading that CNA spoke to said that the demand for their products increased by at least two- to three-fold during this period.

Concerns over increase in plastic waste

The inevitable increase in the use of single-use food packaging and cutlery is, however, leading to more waste produced in Singapore.

Plastic or paper packagings contaminated with food as well as light-weight and cheap styrofoam containers are not recyclable.

This can, in turn, pose a challenge to Singapore's effort to reduce the amount of waste generated as Semakau landfill is expected to be filled by 2035.

Fortunately, many people in Singapore are aware of this potential "side-effect" of the circuit breaker measures as words spread quickly to urge people to bring their own containers to tapao.

You probably have seen this message circulating around when the announcement about circuit breaker was made:

Via Facebook.

Greener alternatives for food delivery

The heightened public interest to reduce packaging waste has led to the rise in demand for greener alternatives such as BioPak and barePack.

BioPak, a supplier which specialises in plant-based takeaway packaging, has seen "a huge surge in demand for takeaway packaging as F&B outlets are only allowed to do takeaways or deliveries", since the announcement to implement the circuit breaker on Apr 3.

Despite the increase in demand for takeaway packaging, the supplier has mostly been able to fulfill orders as the company had a large stock of packaging and has increased stock replenishments in order to cater for the demand.

However, BioPak mentioned that they might see some interruption in supply for more popular products with the extension of circuit breaker.

The supplier added that the supply chain is in full operation and can adapt in the case of any disruptions to supplies.

Another company, barePack, offers a subscription service for the rental of reusable containers.

The company has seen a significant increase in sign-ups and interest from both customers and food establishments, especially in the last week.

According to their spokesperson, food vendors have been requesting for their reusable container subscription service as they are dealing with a lot of new changes recently and are keen on trying new alternatives to disposable packaging.

The rental service is completely free for F&B operators, as barePack understands the challenges that food vendors face.

One of their partners is Well Smoocht, a specialty cafe in Sin Ming that serves plant-based ice cream and food, who started using the barePack service at the start of this month.

Delivery platform, foodpanda, also works with barePack as they have launched a zero-waste pick-up option for barePack members on Apr. 21.

The subscription plan currently offers a free monthly trial, which allows customers to use two reusable containers in one food order.

For those ordering food through foodpanda for selected restaurant partners, you will be able to pre-order pick-up orders in the reusable containers provided by barePack.

Government urges everyone to bring their own containers

In response to Mothership's query, a joint statement from Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that the authorities "understand that there has been an increase in the demand for meal takeaways and that this could have resulted in a corresponding increase in demand for containers, such as plastic and styrofoam".

"Singapore has been diversifying our sources of imports for such containers, and there is also local production of plastic containers. In addition, our packaging manufacturers are already looking at alternatives such as paper-based packaging and plant-based bioplastics," the statement added.

The agencies "strongly encourage everyone to bring their own clean containers when buying food".

While there is no evidence that Covid-19 is spread through food, consumers who bring their own reusable containers for takeaway should:

  • Wash container thoroughly with detergent and water and is clean before use
  • Wash hands thoroughly before touching takeaway container and before eating

They explained that by using our own containers, it will not only help to reduce the amount of waste generated, but also ease the demand for disposable containers.

In turn, retailers should allow their customers to use their own reusable containers.

Via MEWR's Facebook.

Top photo by a Mothership reader