How the online food delivery giant Swiggy is planning to curb plastic pollution?

India generates a whopping 26000 tons of plastic waste in a day and over 10000 tons of it remains uncollected, as revealed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Majority of it is dumped in open rivers, streams, forests and mountains. Apart from the conventional sources of plastic generation like plastic packed products, e-commerce platforms are becoming a new source of adding plastic waste generation.

Plastic is commonly used for packaging purposes by e-commerce companies. Credits: Young Big Mouth

Online businesses like Amazon, Swiggy, Flipkart, Zomato, Myntra etc. are being recognized as major generators of plastic waste. These platforms are extensively utilizing plastic in their packaging and other logistical operations. As per few estimations, the online food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy are generating approximately 22000 tonnes of plastic waste per month.

PM Modi has already made a clarion call against the rampant use of single-use plastics in India. On 15 August this year, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, PM Modi has made an appeal to the citizens to take the individual as well as community efforts to combat plastic pollution.

Plastic cutlery is set to be banned under the new directives of CPCB. Credits: Indiatime

CPCB has come out with a list of probable 12 SUP items which will be considered for an immediate ban. The list includes disposable cutlery, poly bags, cigarette buds, earbuds, plastic stirrers etc. Surprisingly, the list does not carry a mention about the multi-layer plastics which are often used for packing snacks like nuts, chips, candies and chocolates.

Keeping the same background in mind, Dehradun based environmental action and advocacy group, Gati Foundation, has initiated a campaign titled #PlasticMuktBharat to engage with the corporates. The civil society group is trying to get in touch with corporates and understand their strategies, policies and actions with respect to plastic pollution. Not only this, but the campaign also aims to share this with the citizenry at large through its citizen outreach program. Gati has also sensitization workshops for cafes, restaurants and global fooding franchises on plastic waste management in collaboration with Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI).

National food delivery giant Swiggy recently shared its strategy to beat plastic pollution with Gati Foundation. Apart from the regular feature of ‘no cutlery’ in its mobile app, Swiggy is looking for the alternatives to the plastic tape it uses for packing the food packets. The ‘cutlery’ option is now available to 45% of the android users and is also urging customers to mention ‘no cutlery’ in the space provided to write special instructions. “We tried using sturdy paper tapes as an experiment, but given the varieties of food they deliver, it did not prove to fail-proof and with customers sharing feedback about spillage, we had to discontinue the sturdy paper. But, we are still trying to master the art of providing taping solutions, plastic-free”, said the reply.

Online food delivery businesses are using SUPs extensively for packaging. Credits: TA

Swiggy is working with a team of experts to find better and more eco-friendly alternatives for the packaging. The company is trying to make it cost-effective in a bid to attract all the restaurant partners. “The aim is to find a way to reduce the production cost of bio-degradable materials so that this option automatically becomes more lucrative”, said the reply.

Swiggy has also launched an initiative called the Swiggy Packaging Assist, a marketplace program for enabling packaging solutions to restaurant partners. The initiative offers restaurants access to a variety of packing solutions for their menu needs with about 30 products, to begin with. The marketplace connects restaurants with vendors of these materials and offers eco-friendly and food grade certified materials including leak-proof, sturdy, stackable, eco-friendly and heat insolent packaging materials. Vendors on the marketplace will offer discounts of up to 5% to restaurants opting for these solutions.

Swiggy has also launched an initiative called the Swiggy Packaging Assist, a marketplace program for enabling packaging solutions to restaurant partners. Credits: VCCircle

Apart from their efforts on plastic waste, Swiggy is also trying to promote the eco-friendly way of transporting food. “Every month, on an average, 1.5 million orders are fulfilled on a mechanical bicycle. As of now, 20 % of these Swiggy Delivery Partners are operating in tier 2 and tier 3 cities like Surat, Belgaum, Guwahati and Lucknow. Swiggy plans to expand this to tier 1 city soon”, said the reply.

The reply also stated that “Our platform is home to a lot of small vendors who are not financially prepared to invest in bio-degradable packaging. We are encouraging them to use aluminum instead. Agreed, it is not biodegradable! But it is easily recyclable and that seems like a small step worth taking. While not all have come on board with this, a lot of our partners are learning to take baby steps to care about nature”.

The reply also stated that “Due to the non-uniform and questionably imposed ban on plastics pan-India, we are not able to legally force restaurants to give up plastic, as much as we would love to do that. But, we have devised a way in which they enjoy a preferential treatment on our app, if they are willing to do their bit for our Mother Earth. As you can imagine, making this standard across all Swiggy partners is an operation of mammoth proportions, and we are taking it one step at a time.”

Call for action by Gati Foundation as a part of #PlasticMuktBharat. Credits: TA

TA is also conducting a social media campaign to make these e-commerce businesses responsible for the waste arising out of their commercial operations. So far, Swiggy has been the only company to respond to our campaign.

Gautam Kumar Author

Gautam Kumar is Special Project Correspondent with TA.