SINGAPORE: As more people opt for meals delivered to their doorstep amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the three largest food delivery players in Singapore have made reusable containers an option in the hope of reducing the use of disposable packaging.
These containers are available for orders made with participating food and beverage (F&B) businesses, which number more than 100 at the moment across Foodpanda, Deliveroo and GrabFood.
The new option is part of ongoing plans to cut down on single-use packaging in food deliveries, said these platforms, although the pandemic and rise in delivery orders have spurred the need for more sustainable alternatives.
A local study published in June showed that the “circuit breaker”, rolled out in early-April to curb the spread of COVID-19, led to an increase in disposable containers and cutlery usage.
An extra 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste was generated from takeaway and delivery meals during the two-month period which banned dine-ins at eating places and shuttered schools and most workplaces, the study found.
The initiative comes at a time when the spotlight is being shone on the impact of single-use plastics on the environment and the role they play in climate change.
Last year, a report by the Centre for International Environmental Law said that the global production and incineration of plastic would add add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
The earliest to roll out the new option was Foodpanda which began partnering two reusable container lending services – BarePack and Muuse – in April and July, respectively. It now has 48 F&B businesses on board.
“We are very committed to reducing waste, especially that of single-use plastics,” said its marketing and sustainability director Laura Kantor.
“We explored partnerships with BarePack and Muuse with this in mind, but the pandemic definitely pushed us to increase awareness and adoption of this initiative.”
GrabFood teamed up with Muuse about a month ago and is currently in a pilot phase with 10 restaurants.
Over at Deliveroo, which is partnering BarePack, customers have been able to order food in reusable cups and boxes from more than 50 restaurants since Oct 7.
“With the ongoing initiative, Deliveroo hopes to combat rising disposable packaging waste in the city-state as a result of movement restrictions, especially during the circuit breaker period,” a spokesperson said.
HOW IT WORKS
Under the partnerships, both BarePack and Muuse will provide the reusable containers used for deliveries.
Customers will have to return these containers to either the restaurants they ordered from or any participating merchant. BarePack also offers home collection services.
Foodpanda said since the launch, delivery and self pick-up orders using these reusable packaging have “more than tripled’ over the last six months.
Grab and Deliveroo, whose initiatives have just started, did not provide take-up rates.
Muuse’s chief executive Brian Reilly said its collaborations with the food delivery platforms have been “extremely helpful” in pushing for more to embrace a zero-waste lifestyle.
“As takeaway and delivery orders shot up since the circuit breaker period kicked in, there has been a significant increase in the use of single-use packaging. However, we believe people were hungry for a change,” he added, noting how its user base tripled from July to September on the back of these new partnerships.
Barepack’s co-founder and chief executive Roxane Uzureau echoed that: “The delivery additions have certainly made takeaway in reusables much more convenient than simply Bring Your Own.”
The sharing service started at the end of 2019 by lending its reusable cups and food boxes to restaurants for takeaways. It gradually expanded its network of F&B businesses and now saves about 100 disposable packaging a week, according to Ms Uzureau.
Barepack’s members get to order food on the delivery platforms for free, while non-members have to pay a deposit of S$6 which will be refunded when they return the reusable containers. There is no time limit for users to return the containers, although each user is only allowed to borrow up to five.
On the other hand, Muuse charges S$25 to those who do not return their containers after 14 days.
So far, all reusable containers have been returned promptly, representatives of both sharing services told CNA.
Foodpanda said the return process is “fuss-free” as customers will be given instructions, while Deliveroo noted that it has not received any reports of customers facing difficulties in returning the containers.
Once collected, participating F&B businesses will clean the containers before reusing them for new deliveries.
Asked about hygiene concerns amid the pandemic, Muuse said the cleaning process is done “in line with strict Government regulations governing the use of dine-in tableware and containers”. It added that it conducts regular spot checks and follows updates from the Singapore Food Agency closely.
Similarly for BarePack, all containers are “cleaned to the same standards” as that of dine-ins. It also worked with Deliveroo to implement “stringent” safety protocols, such as ensuring that reusable containers are “collected away from restaurant serving areas and batch processed with used crockery”.
WHAT F&B BUSINESSES SAY
Shake Farm began making deliveries with reusable containers from BarePack and Muuse since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Due to the huge increase of delivery volume and the large amount of takeaway packaging being used every day, it made a lot of sense to use reusable containers,” said its founder Danny Chambers.
But this only makes up about 5 per cent of its orders – a “considerably low” figure, according to Mr Chambers. “We hope that this will increase considerably in the future as it’s a lot better for the environment," he said.
SaladStop!, Heybo and Wooshi, which offers the reusable options via Deliveroo, said they registered an average of 5 such orders a day since the initiative began in early-October.
BarePack’s reusable containers have been made available for takeaways at these stores since February, said Ms Katherine Braha, co-founder and director at Fresh Creation Holdings which manages the three F&B brands.
The company has been an advocate of the reusable culture in Singapore, encouraging Bring Your Own practices and launching its own reusable merchandise. And with COVID-19 spurring the number of online orders, it saw the partnership between BarePack and Deliveroo as “a great solution to make (its) deliveries more eco-friendly”.
Asked if the cleaning of the reusable containers could be extra work for its employees, Ms Braha said: “As the BarePack containers are a new set of materials for cleaning, this does add to the workload for our staff.
“However, we have had BarePack available in our stores since early this year, so staff were already familiar with the collecting and washing procedures.”
She added: “We anticipate that as more merchants begin to participate in the barePack programme, this responsibility will become better shared.”
READ: Commentary: The enormous growth of plastic packaging as take-outs and food deliveries surge must stop
Moving forward, the delivery and container sharing companies are looking to expand the number of participating F&B businesses and increase user rates.
Muuse said it is working on a rewards programme for its users, alongside plans to make the “return process as easy as possible” and sign up more F&B outlets, according to Mr Reilly.
The spokesperson for Deliveroo said the company is committed to helping its F&B partners become more sustainable and “will be actively seeking to expand this initiative to more restaurants in coming weeks”.
Grab’s spokesperson said: “We are gradually onboarding more merchant-partners onto this initiative in the past month and are actively monitoring the feedback and results, as well as working closely with Muuse to design effective ways of making this campaign as meaningful as possible.”