Food-hailing action nothing but a drop in ocean of plastic

14:00 | 27/08/2020
As the local environment begins to suffer from an increase in plastic use stemming from new over-reliance on food delivery applications during the pandemic, service operators are thus far slow to react with any response to the dilemma.
food hailing action nothing but a drop in ocean of plastic
Food-hailing action nothing but a drop in ocean of plastic

Entering a Vietnamese food vendor in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh district, a handful of food-delivery drivers from GrabFood, Now, and South Korean newcomer Baemin Vietnam are waiting to pick up orders for customers.

Nguyen Van Quan, a partner at GrabFood, told VIR that during lunchtimes he usually handles 30-40 deliveries, with each delivery consisting of orders for 2-4 customers.

“The orders grew rapidly over the last pandemic, and are rising even more now that the pandemic has returned to Vietnam,” he said. “So, at lunch and dinner time, I have gotten used to being tied up in receiving and delivering the orders.”

The latest wave of COVID-19 in the country has lowered the demand for eating outside, but is benefiting the food delivery applications that fulfil the eat-at-home need. Taking advantage of the trend, apps such as GrabFood, Now, Gojek, and Baemin have increased advertisements on YouTube and Facebook in the past month.

Q&Me, the provider of Vietnamese market research for business, released a survey in April on the increasing food delivery demand in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City during the first pandemic scare in the country.

The report showed food delivery services in Vietnam increased in popularity due to the social isolation measures imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, among existing food delivery app users, 70 per cent increased use of the services at that time – and with pandemic effects more serious in certain locations this time around, the popularity could be even greater, especially in Central Vietnam.

According to Spanish market research company Kantar Worldpanel, GrabFood is leading the market with a solid 65 per cent, running laps around second-place Now, which has 7 per cent.

Indeed, earlier in the year, services like GrabFood and GrabMart saw impressive growth. Pointedly, GrabMart in late March saw a hike of 91 per cent in the number of orders against the day before national social distancing. GrabFood also recorded a spike of 26 per cent in the average value of each order because local people tended to order more items for their family members.

Over the first half of 2020, the service also saw an on-year increase of nearly 1,800 per cent in the number of orders, following a report from Kantar Worldpanel.

Plastic abundance

Notwithstanding, along with the blossoming prospects of food delivery companies, the local environment is being burdened by a huge volume of plastic rubbish being contributed in part by plastic and nylon bags released by food producers.

Launched in Vietnam almost five years ago, and based on the initial idea of food rating website, Now has risen as the dominant food delivery app with more than 25,000 orders a day. GrabFood reported a 250-fold growth in orders and thousands of restaurant partners after just one year in operation.

Assuming that the two delivery giants – Now and GrabFood – get the same number of orders, they would conduct a total of 50,000 deliveries a day, discharging hundreds of thousands of plastics boxes and nylon bags into the environment every day, which all require hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose.

Nguyen Hoang Trung, chief executive of Vietnamese multi-delivery service Loship that has more than 160,000 food vendor and 20,000 driver partners, told VIR said that plastic waste is a huge problem, which was difficult to control even before the pandemic emerged on the scene. When COVID-19 broke out, the increase in demand for food delivery only exacerbated the issue.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, about 80 tonnes of plastic waste is released every day in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Moreover, only 10 per cent of plastic rubbish in Vietnam is recycled, while the remaining 90 per cent is concreted or discharged into the environment.

Vietnam is one of four countries in Asia that causes more than four million tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the world’s oceans every year, according to estimates by environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy.

Feeble attempts

As the environment has been suffering mounting volumes of plastic waste, food delivery operators have yet to offer any real solutions on the issue.

GrabFood has launched an eco-friendly window in its app to introduce restaurants which use environmentally-friendly materials and packaging. Grab, the operator of GrabFood, last year also began a plastic reduction initiative allowing consumers to refuse plastic cutlery with their orders.

However, the function alone cannot so much as the mountain of plastic packaging used to wrap food and does little to promote a green lifestyle.

Loship chief executive Trung told VIR that his group is working with Thai firm Biodegradable Packaging for the Environment Plc. to bring alternative packaging solutions for the company’s restaurant partners. These products include paper bowls and straws, as well as bags and recycled packages.

“Being the first representative in the Vietnamese food delivery sector to implement this solution, Loship expects to contribute to changing the habits of both customers and restaurants about using plastic packages. Although these environmental-friendly packages are quite expensive, 300 of our partners have already switched to these products,” Trung said.

It seems only GrabFood and Loship have rolled out activities to decrease plastic waste, and their efforts will change the habits of only a fraction of consumers and partners.

“Loship is aware of how hard it is to change habit at a moment’s notice, but every small change by restaurants and food delivery companies will gradually spread the ‘no single-use plastic’ message to the people,” Trung added.

By Ha An

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