The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed the efforts of environmentalists and environmental enthusiasts to reduce plastic waste.
According to a study by six Master of Science (environmental management) alumni students from the National University of Singapore, the Singaporeans generated an additional 1,334 tons of plastic waste during the two-month breaker.
This is equivalent to the weight of 92 double-decker buses and was mainly due to the increase in takeaway and delivery meals.
Recently, three food suppliers in Singapore – GrabFood, foodpanda and Deliveroo – started giving customers the option to have their meals delivered in reusable containers.
But will this help reduce plastic waste?
A valiant attempt to reduce plastic waste
Photo credit: Muuse via Facebook
They have partnered with two food container sharing services in Singapore, Muuse and BarePack.
Both companies offer similar services. They offer disposable containers that can be used for the delivery of food.
Instead of throwing the containers in the trash, customers have to return them to the participating restaurants.
Photo credit: BarePack via Facebook
There are currently around 100 restaurants under BarePack and 50 under Muuse.
GrabFood started its partnership with Muuse last month and has 18 restaurants on board.
Meanwhile, Deliveroo began its partnership with BarePack in August. Although BarePack is available for takeout at over 100 restaurants across Singapore, only eight are listed on the Deliveroo website.
Foodpanda has been working with Muuse and BarePack since July and April, with a total of 71 branches as part of the two partnerships.
These partnerships show that both larger companies and startups have made efforts to reduce plastic waste.
BarePack announced to TodayOnline that the partnership with Foodpanda has saved over 50 kg of plastic so far.
However, it remains unclear whether these efforts will significantly change the amount of plastic waste generated.
A logistical challenge
Photo credit: Lunchbox Sale
Startups like Muuse and BarePack are likely to face logistical challenges when implementing such services. One example is ensuring that customers return the reusable containers.
Both companies have taken measures to prevent customers from storing the reusable containers indefinitely.
Muuse charges customers who do not return their containers after 14 days, S $ 25.
On the flip side, those who are not BarePack members are required to leave a S $ 6 deposit and will not get that money back until they return their containers.
However, imposing such deposits could discourage customers from using the service at all.
In addition, both customers and restaurants have to make an effort to wash the containers, which can be problematic for establishments already facing labor shortages and the like.
Singaporeans love convenience
The demand for convenience in Singapore is constantly increasing.
According to a 2018 report released by the Singapore Environment Council, a significant number of Singaporeans cited inconvenience as one of the reasons for not recycling.
The love of convenience is also exactly the reason why the food industry has been booming in recent years.
For Singaporeans who may not have a lot of extra time to work, delivering food in single-use containers is a huge time saver.
Aside from washing the containers, people will also need to visit participating restaurants to return to.
At this point in time, only a small percentage of restaurants in Singapore have subscribed to services such as Muuse and BarePack.
Vanessa Tan, 25, reiterated that statement, telling Vulcan Post that she is reluctant to use such container sharing services as there are few facilities where she can return the containers in the area where she lives .
As a result, those who do not live close to the participating restaurants can find it difficult to take part in these initiatives, even if they wanted to.
What's a better alternative?
Image credit: SCMP
While it started with a good cause, the use of reusable containers for grocery delivery services may not be sustainable unless the intake rate is high enough.
Additionally, this leaves out a very essential aspect of Singapore's dining scene – hawker centers.
According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), there are over 100 hawker centers in Singapore, most of which are in the heartland.
Instead of using regular, single-use, take-away containers at Hawker Centers, reusable containers can be used instead.
Although the concept is similar to that used by the grocery delivery giants, customers would be more likely to participate in this initiative if the container return stations were widespread enough.
In addition, visitor frequency to hawker centers is high due to affordability and convenience factors. Therefore, returning the containers would be a lot easier as there is a hawker center in every neighborhood.
Ultimately, these initiatives will only have a significant impact on reducing plastic waste in Singapore if a sufficiently large number of people participate.
Until then, it pays to implement them in places that are easily accessible to the masses so that the setting can be changed at the same time.
Selected image source: BarePack via Facebook