How did the last food delivery you made lead to drought in the summer?

Time has become a commodity in the modern urban lifestyle. As the cliche statement goes ,’ ‘everyone on the planet has the same number of hours in a time’, you cannot buy time from someone else but you can save time by paying someone else to do your tasks/work and in that way time has become important in the modern urban lifestyle. This has led to a huge behavioral shift in the way humans run their lives and with the aid of technology many startups have been able to tap into this and build categories in the market and multi-dollar businesses out of this. They have changed human lives for good but is it really good for the planet and the environment we live in is something we’ll look into in this blog. One such behavioral shift is the fast food delivery culture and its environmental damage on an everyday basis which we are unaware of.

You are laid back, want to order food through an online delivery, and scroll through the app looking at different restaurants. You pick your favorite one, you order food and maybe get a discount offer. 30 minutes in and the food has arrived at your house. You have the food and throw away the packets in the trash can. It’s a simple thing, you have the pleasure of having your favorite food without the hustle of running around the streets. You may wonder how this affects the environment and how this contributes to climate change? There are multiple areas and we’ll dive into each of them.


Firstly, let’s talk about the different types of packaging.

Food comes in 3 types of packaging :
Primary — commonly referred to as consumer or retail packaging, is the box that is in direct contact with the product. For eg, when you buy a cereal box — the aluminum bag that the cereal is in direct contact with makes the primary packaging.

Secondary — This is the second layer of packaging that entails the packed food product, mostly consumer facing. For eg, the same outer cardboard covering of the cereal box makes the secondary packaging.

Tertiary — The third layer of packaging used to protect the secondary packaging. Mostly used for shipment purposes. For example, 10 cereal boxes may arrive at a supermarket inside a bigger cardboard box.

Do we really need so much packaging?

When you order food from a restaurant, you may notice excessive use of packaging such as my idli comes in a foil box, covered with a paper bag, inside a polythene cover.

The purpose of packaging primarily is for storage and protection, hence sometimes for door delivery a lot of packaging can go unused.

Roughly a package of food delivery has an average of 0.15–0.29 KgeCO2. This is the amount of carbon footprint produced in order to produce the packaging material. The amount of packaging that goes into landfills due to home-delivered meals is close to 22,000 tonnes per month in India. Every meal that we order takes a few hours from the moment of preparation to consumption and discarding the waste. The waste discarded stays in the ground for years.

Delivery & Transport:
The delivery person moves in two-wheelers to deliver the food. The distance varies based on the orders and there is no fixed distance as such but the delivery companies optimize it in such a way that the delivery person closest picks the order and delivers. For every km, the delivery person travels he releases carbon emissions. Given the traffic and signals, the longer he stays the more the emissions. An average fossil fuel-based two-wheeler emits close to 0.103 KgeCO2/Km. Travelling 10 km means 1 kg of CO2 emitted.

Disposal of waste:
When the packaging waste is not biodegradable or when it ends in your trash can and goes into the public bin that is not recycled then it eventually ends up in the landfill. Waste ending up in landfills not only harms the ecosystem of land and water of the area in which the landfill is present but also emits greenhouse gasses.

Environmental damage in numbers (In India):

Average food delivery in India is between 4–6 kms. 
Per day India has 20 lakhs food delivery orders. 
The average carbon footprint is close to 1030 tons of CO2 emissions per day. 
Per year it is close to 3,75,950 tons of CO2 which is equivalent to the amount of carbon 49,000 trees would take up per day in order to offset this.

In a year we will need approximately close to 1,78,85,000 trees to offset these emissions.

(Note: We have only calculated the delivery carbon footprint. We haven’t taken into account the carbon footprint of packaging and the disposal of packaging)

What could we do about it?

-Restaurants should opt for alternative eco-friendly packaging options. Consumers must be conscious of their choices and be aware of the damage each of their food delivery order does to the environment

-We shall go back to our roots of using leaves as packaging materials. Using palm, banana, lotus leaves for packaging food is a sustainable option

-Using dabbas(containers made out of metal) for delivery could be the ideal solution if food delivery companies could find a way to do it. That will significantly reduce the amount of plastic involved in packaging

So, the next time you see an option to check — send cutlery with order, make sure to uncheck the box before placing your order.

Some companies are trying to change this by offering solutions such as reusable packaging at the time of delivery. One such interesting example to look at is Swiggy Instamart

They launched free-of-cost, reusable bags that are sturdy, maintain product privacy and have quirky designs and creatives for delivering their Swiggy Instamart orders. Customers have spotted them being used for all sorts of purposes including travel, gifting and as the bazaar shopping bags. They managed to bag love from many customers. This is live across 19 cities today.

The next time you have an Instamart delivery you can return your extra bags through the Swiggy delivery executive.

Once you return the bag, the Swiggy delivery executive will bring it to the Instamart store the next time they are there for an order. After a quality inspection, the bags will be Sanitized, Product Refurbished and then Actively used for future orders. Delivery executives can also make an extra earning

Swiggy will also incentivize all delivery executives who bring the bags, helping them contribute meaningfully and also be rewarded with extra earnings. Think of it as a way for you to tip them for bringing you your orders.

“Vikram, a Swiggy Instamart customer from Gurugram holds the record for returning the maximum bags. 300 to be precise. Calling all the Vikrams out there to declutter, return and help us reuse!”

Companies like Zomato also claim to offset their delivery carbon footprint which is step in the forward direction.

More transparency and awareness would be welcomed from the companies to ensure they take responsibility for their action and educate their customers about positive behaviors in the right direction.

Taking action at multiple levels and their potential impact: 
(Janairo, 2022)[1]

Individual Level
Potential Impact: Low
Timeline: Immediate 
Choose restaurants within the vicinity and bring own containers for takeout
-Taking into consideration the type of packaging material the restaurants in selecting in which food establishment to order from

Restaurant Level
Potential Impact: Low
Timeline: Short-term
-Increase the options for takeout containers and packaging to include sustainable materials.

Online Delivery system level
Potential Impact: High
Timeline: Short-term
-Provide incentives for restaurants that utilize sustainable packaging materials.
-Negotiate with manufacturers of sustainable packaging materials on behalf of restaurants within their network, which may drastically decrease the procurement cost of sustainable packaging materials.
-Devise innovative operational framework that will lead to the circular use of food containers within their restaurant network.

Government level
Potential Impact: High
Timeline: Long-term
-Infrastructure investment for recycling facilities
-Review the relevance and ability of existing laws to respond to the dynamic nature of plastic waste management
-Education and information campaigns on proper plastic use and disposal

So how is this related to drought during summers?

Our planet is at a tipping point. Our earth’s average temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees and with no reduction in the CO2 emissions we are only increasing the global temperatures. According to the latest IPCC report, an increase to 2 degree celsius in earth’s average temperature would mean 1 in 9 people on the people don’t have food and tropical countries like India might face huge food scarcity as crop production drops significantly. Every order you make contributes to climate change in the form of carbon emissions.

As we step into the new normal in the post-covid world, behavioral consciousness is key in tackling climate change. New age startups and technology must re-define human behavior and should aid in changing people behavior such that we don’t damage the environment any further but also restore the damage we have done.