Takeouts without plastics is impractical now say restaurants with ‘few or no’ eco-friendly options

Takeouts without plastics is impractical now say restaurants with ‘few or no’ eco-friendly options
  • Municipal corporation in Mumbai seeks to curb the use of plastic containers used for food deliveries.
  • Delivery partners in India are still in the process of making the transition to eco-friendly options.
  • Restaurants in India are struggling to come up with practical eco-friendly solutions.
  • Cost of most eco-friendly packaging can range from ₹17-245 per kg as compared to plastic which costs ₹15-18 per kg.
In the last two years, restaurant take-outs have gone up exponentially. While both restaurants and delivery partners are happy about it, city authorities are concerned about the rising plastic waste – be it bags, plastic boxes or containers that are used to pack food.

After banning single-use plastics, Mumbai city authorities are making a move to curb the use of plastic boxes and containers for food deliveries. In a meeting with restaurant bodies this month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) suggested restaurants and hotels use steel containers instead.

This, the city says, is phase II of their initiative to fight plastics, after a nation-wide ban on single-use plastics in July this year.

‘Want a practical eco-friendly solution’

Pradeep Shetty, senior vice president, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) told Business Insider India that looking for alternate solutions was not easy as they scramble to satisfy their already-demanding customers’ need for speed with services like 10-minute delivery.


Steel containers, Shetty says, are completely impractical. It will also double the cost of delivery.

“The plastics used in restaurants are not one-time use. If they ban plastic containers, do they have an eco-friendly plan in place? Will the Indian customer base be willing to pay more for an eco-friendly alternative? Our country does not have a Starbucks clientele as customers who can afford Starbucks can pay for eco-friendly packaging,” said Shetty.

That said, the food delivery ecosystem has been trying to transition to eco-friendly options but it’s still work in progress.

Swiggy launched a packaging-assist programme in 2016 with the aim of partnering with restaurants across Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, to provide eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Swiggy did not respond to queries sent seeking an update on its five year old initiative.

What’s the cost of saving the environment?

While the transition to eco-friendly options is on the rise, it is slow and will take time for them to become mainstream and popular.

The biggest challenge remains the prohibitive cost and limited availability of most eco-friendly options – be it reusable glass containers, bamboo or edible cutlery. While bagasse, made of sugarcane residue, is the only cheap option at ₹3,000 a tonne, or ₹3 a kilogram, the rest are much higher than plastic, which costs ₹15-18 per kilogram.

Cost of eco-friendly options

Biodegradable material Cost
Bagasse₹3,000 per tonne
Areca Leaves₹3 per piece
Bamboo₹110-120 per kg
Birchwood₹48-175 per square feet
Polylactic Acid (Biodegradable Plastic)₹245 per kg
Glass Cullet Scrap₹17-35 per kg

Source: IndiaMart

Chai Point, an Indian tea retail company, partnered with India-based sustainable food packaging company Ecoware in 2016 to develop 100% biodegradable packaging made of bagasse. Even though Chai Point paper cups remain non-biodegradable, their containers, spoons and sticks are eco-friendly, the company claims.

“We are also planning to introduce pineapple waste which can be used as a container, prolonging shelf life and is an eco-friendly solution,” Amuleek Singh Bijral, founder of Chai Point, told Business Insider India.

Eco-friendly products can also be made out of Areca leaves, bamboo, birchwood, and biodegradable plastic called polylactic acid (PLA), said Devendra Agrawal, Founder of boutique investment bank Dexter Capital Advisors.

Edible cutlery – made out of a mix of sorghum flour, rice flour and wheat flour – is another eco-friendly option that is seeing interest, he said.

“Edible cutlery by being tasty, nutritious and environment-friendly, is setting new trends. This eliminates the need for disposal and recycling, thus being a great solution for sit-in restaurants,” said Agrawal.

Restaurants and aggregators are taking baby steps towards adopting eco-friendly options.

“What aggregators are doing is not revolutionary, they are merely promoting a packaging solution or a company. It’s the restaurants that are doing the packaging and we are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible as we have already done away with single-use plastics,” said Shetty.

Change takes time and an adjustment in mindset. A lot of time, energy, investments and collaboration are needed for take-outs to become completely eco-friendly.

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