Food deliveries lead to more plastic waste

ACCORDING to a study conducted by Charlene Li, Miranda Mirosa and Phil Bremer last year, the rise of online meal delivery is a global trend, with many nations having at least one significant food delivery platform.

China is the global leader in terms of online food delivery, closely followed by the United States, with emerging economies, such as India and Brazil, exhibiting strong development.

Food delivery is a courier service in which food is delivered to a customer by a restaurant, store or independent food-delivery company.

Ordering food online has never been simpler, thanks to the many eateries that have expanded their businesses to online platforms with delivery service available.

An order is often placed through the website or mobile app of a restaurant or grocer or a third-party platform. Foodpanda and GrabFood are two popular third-party platforms in Malaysia.

Food delivery services are seen as critical, particularly during the movement control order. For many people, having food delivered to their doorstep has been the new normal since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

This is due to the fact that consumers may now order their favourite foods from the convenience of their own homes. As a result, it has become a significant indirect inducement for people to stay at home.

The Malaysian government has decided to enforce another nationwide lockdown from June 1 to 14 due to a surge in Covid-19 infections. As a result, eateries are not open to the public; only takeaways are permitted. Food delivery services become even more crucial during a lockdown.

According to Li, Mirosa and Bremer, the rise of the online meal delivery sector has created opportunities for many people in a variety of occupations, including chefs and administrative employees in restaurants, delivery persons and programmers behind the apps/online platforms.

Although food delivery is beneficial to the economy, it has the unintended consequence of damaging the environment.

When we order meals from a food delivery service, they are normally packaged in plastic bags.

If plastic garbage is not properly disposed of, it will damage the soil, penetrate water systems and reach the ocean, threatening wildlife and the ecology. As a result, the country’s plastic waste pollution problem may worsen.

One of the most serious environmental concerns highlighted by the huge increase in online food delivery, according to the study, is the enormous volume of plastic waste generated and how to deal with it.

The effectiveness with which different countries cope with the plastic waste generated by online meal delivery is determined on the extent to which their recycling infrastructure has improved and the rate at which online meal delivery has increased.

In China, for example, as online food delivery increased, the overall volume of packing trash increased from 0.2 million tonnes in 2015 to 1.5 million tonnes in 2017.

Similarly, following the Covid-19 outbreak, having food delivered to one’s doorstep has become the new normal for many Thais.

While food delivery services provide additional alternatives and convenience for clients, they also contribute hundreds of tonnes of plastic to Thailand’s already failing waste management system.

Thailand produced around 5,500 tonnes of plastic waste daily prior to the beginning of the health crisis, according to Dr Wijarn Simachaya, president of the Thailand Environment Institute. Today, the volume has grown to 6,300 tonnes.

Furthermore, during the pandemic, a survey conducted by the Penang Green Council found a shift towards online shopping and food delivery services. For example, during the movement control order period, online shopping of three to four times per week climbed by 7% while food delivery of once or twice per week grew by 6%. As a result, the demand for single-use plastics increased.

Plastic bags, containers, cutlery and straws used more than four times a week have risen by 33%, 49%, 31%, and 31% respectively. This is backed by Maria-Chiara Femiano, programme manager of the foreign policy instruments/regional team for Asia and Pacific at the European Union delegation to Thailand, who stated that the food delivery service has dramatically increased single-use plastic waste.

To summarise, while food delivery may be advantageous to the economy, it may offer certain environmental risks, particularly the increase in plastic waste.

As a result, key parties, such as the government and private sector, must develop plans to tackle this issue. – June 6, 2021.

* Dr Haidy Henry Dusim is a senior lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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