Craving for a biryani or ice-cream, or want a cup of tea after a hectic day at work? Everything is delivered at your doorstep. Just scroll through the names of each and every food joint in the city on a mobile app, select the place you would like to buy the food, browse through the menu, select the items (the instant cravings that develop after looking at the menu is also taken care of), pay with your credit card or even choose a cash-on-delivery scheme, wait for some time and here you go – the food has arrived. No need to spend hours in the kitchen when there are online food-ordering apps at your service 24/7. All you need to do is to unpack the food, serve it and enjoy the meal. But, wait. Does anybody think what happens to the plastic containers, cutlery and bags that the food is delivered in? They just add up to the heap of plastic waste lying on the earth for who knows how many years.
The question that is pertinent at this juncture, when the world celebrates the Environmental Day, is that can we afford more plastics being dumped on the earth? Are our authorities at the local level well equipped for proper disposal of the plastic waste that has increased massively in cities like Kochi? Most of the experts opine that we still have a long way to go and the finishing point seems fading away with new trends becoming popular in the cities.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, environmentalist and programme director of Thanal, has a relevant question to ask. “Online home delivery is convenient. But, is it environmentally responsible? This has been a new change. In most cities, we are now possibly ordering more food via Uber Eats, Swiggy’s and Zomato’s than walking into the eateries. This new convenience is probably here to stay, but at a huge cost on the environment and our health. Even when we relish this convenience, there is an inconvenient truth that we ignore. The plastic packing and cutlery that come along are single-use plastic, and go into the waste stream,” he opines, adding that this convenience for a largely irresponsible society is hazardous. He further adds that on an estimate, home-delivered food is responsible for 22,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated in India every month. “This comes from about 35-40 million orders per month. A rough estimate for Thiruvananthapuram shows that there are around 50,000 home delivery orders every day. Roughly, this could be generating 25 tonnes of plastic waste in our city on a daily basis. Such massive amount of waste is ending up in some critical life support ecosystems – oceans, water bodies, and as burnt pollutants into the air. Such plastic wastes invariably outlive us and in most cases break down into toxins that end up in our bodies through the food we eat or the water we drink. This is surely not what we aim at through this convenient home-delivery system.”
Environmentalist and social activist Dr C.M. Joy considers it as a joint responsibility of the online food ordering companies and restaurants to set up a strict rule according to which the food shall only be delivered in bio-degradable containers.Though the companies have made it a rule, keeping a check on whether it is being followed strictly is not an easy task. The restaurants have to act sensibly in this regard. When asked if the local government bodies have the proper infrastructure to deal with the increasing plastic waste in our city and whether Kochi has a proper waste management system, Dr. Joy says that the authorities are responsible for these never ending miseries of the people in the city. He affirms that the government officials, who are supposed to make sure that a metro like ours maintains basic sanitation and proper waste disposal, are busy filling their pockets.
“Their corruption-laden hands do not allow them to think for humanity. The greatest example is the implementation of unscientific plastic treatment plant in the city, which will in turn lead to massive air pollution. The corporation claims that the plant will melt the plastic waste and generate electricity from the energy extracted from it. I will say that only a bunch of people who are illiterate about the environmental degradation that is happening around them will implement a plan that is no use to mankind and in turn affect them adversely,” he adds.
Recently, Kochi witnessed one of the greatest air contaminations of all times when a fire broke out at the Brahmapuram waste dumping yard. People who lived miles away had to bear with the poisonous smoke. The unscientific and no-result-yielding projects related to the dumping yard have been a topic of discussion at the government level for many years now. However, no proper solution has been devised yet.
Mahesh Maanas, director of the short film Wiped Out, had encountered the ground reality when he got into the premises of the Brahmapuram waste dumping yard against the will of the authorities in order to shoot his film. Commenting on the possible solution for the situation, he says, “I can’t imagine the future of the place that we live in. Why don’t we understand a simple argument that we are the ones who need to come forward and work for our well-being? More such fire outbreaks in waste dumping yards cannot be permitted. We can’t afford it. Neither will the authorities do something. It is high time the public acted. We have to consciously stop the usage of plastic. Even if we are opting for ordering food online, we must use the options available in these apps wherein we can avoid the plastic cutleries. I am not saying that one must curb his/her craving. Opting for takeaway in one’s own container will reduce the use of plastic to a great extent.”
Suggesting a possible solution for the increasing plastic waste, Sridhar says that the four stake holders – city corporation, eateries, home delivery companies and the public – must intervene to get at least some important things in place. Ban plastic and use fibre bags for delivery. Encourage and adopt paper, cloth, pulp-based packs, palm leaves, banana leaves etc. for various kinds of food, blending convenience and the concept of zero waste. No need of free cutlery in the delivery packs. Make it a paid option, where you get degradable/edible cutlery only. Promote responsible behaviour for both the eatery and the consumer, with incentives. Ensure a system of full take back/recycling of the non-biodegradable materials used and penalise such waste getting into waste stream. Finally, enforce full traceability of the packed food, with prints, seals etc. of the eatery and the delivery agency, so that responsibility can be fixed if the waste ends up in the waste stream.
“I would like to convey a message to the eateries that their profits and convenience cannot be at the cost of environment and public health, and so they need to ensure that their brand is delivered in an eco-friendly manner . Customers, too, must demand safe, healthy and eco-conscious packing,” he says, adding that better alternatives like cooking, as a first and most preferred choice, and walking into the eatery with a container for those foraging moment will ensure fewer toxins disposed into the environment....