Food operators forge ahead with green initiatives to help save the planet

Food delivery services in Thailand increased dramatically during the pandemic and even though dine-in restrictions have now been lifted, ordering in remains as popular as ever. Granted, ordering is a breeze thanks to the smartphone apps and the choice of cuisine is huge, but there’s a price to pay and we’re not talking about the cost of the food. It’s called trash and the plastic that accompanies the food – containers, spoons and forks, condiment sachets and more – is ruining our oceans and killing marine life.

According to figures from Pollution Control Department, around 9,600 tons of waste was generated every day between January and April 2021 throughout the country compared to 8,800 tons/day over the same period in 2020. That’s 139 grams of plastic waste per person, per day with packaging making up 38.2 percent. And only 25 percent of the plastic was processed for reuse.

Kasikorn Research Centre (KRC) estimates that the Thai online food delivery service market will continue to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent to 70.9 billion baht in 2022. The industry is expected to create more than 3.6 billion pieces of plastic waste or over 55,260 tons, generating around 331,560 tons of carbon dioxide.

To reduce the impacts on the environment, the Thai government has set an ambitious goal of cutting solid waste by 30 percent in 2022 and is focusing particularly on single-use plastics. It is encouraging the use of materials that are friendly to the environment and increasing recycling.

The online food platform providers have responded by adding options to their apps allowing users to opt-out of unnecessary disposable items. Consumers are doing their part by replacing or reducing the plastic products or packaging they purchase with more sustainable alternatives. And food operators are making strides towards going green to help save the planet.

Making a difference with green efforts

Phoenix Lava Co Ltd uses eco-friendly packaging and materials to stand out and catch consumer attention while lessening impacts on the environment. The food company operates cafés and kiosks that serve dishes, Chinese steamed buns (salapao), Japanese sweets and drinks. It also offers online delivery and takeaway services.

“Most of Chinese steamed buns on the market are put in plastic bags. Ours are wrapped in paper bags. We also use kyogi wooden paper,” the company’s co-founder Parin Suksmith says, adding that the paper that is used to keep buns from sticking to the steamer is a thin sheet made of Japanese red pine. It’s a natural wrapping material that is well ventilated, thus helping preserve the freshness and the flavor.

He claims that 80 percent of the packaging used by the company uses is friendly to the environment. The paper-based food containers, the steaming papers, the bun bags and paper-based tape that keeps the bags shut are all biodegradable. The spoons and forks, meanwhile, are made of bio-plastic.

The company pays close attention to the selection of packaging and food containers to ensure that they are convenient for consumers and friendly to the environment. The boxes, which are designed to fit in the fridge, come with a message “thank you for not using a plastic bag” to encourage consumers to go green.

“Paper decomposes much more quickly and is more widely recycled,” Parin says.

The company’s green mindset also extends to encouraging customers to say no to disposable plastic cutlery when making online food orders and to pick up foods at kiosks.

Green consumption on the rise

Miss Dee, which serves Japanese and Thai dishes, is also cutting down on plastic food containers. Owner Patomtust Vongtharanavuth says it focuses on using packaging and material that can be recycled easily including paper-based food containers and banana leaves. But he admits that plastic packaging is better for containing and protecting foods during delivery to customers.

“We use disposable food packaging when necessary to ensure that our food won’t leak through the bottom before it is delivered.  We want it to be delivered in the same condition as we would serve it to a customer dining in a restaurant,” Patomtust says.

He notes that consumers care more about eco-friendly packaging and expect kitchens and restaurants to produce and package more responsibly as they are concerned about the environment. Eco-conscious consumers are willing to support kitchens that share their green concern.

“Most of our customers make a request for paper-based containers when making an order. Almost all of them use the opt-out of single-use plastic option on the apps,” he says.

A 2022 report by the KRC on top consumers trends reveals that Gen Z consumers would boycott a brand if they found that it was failing to address environmental and social concerns. A sustainability report it published last year revealed that more than half (55 percent) of survey respondents said they are willing to pay more for products and services that are made and provided in an environmentally friendly way if prices do not exceed 20 percent of regular prices, while 20 percent said they are willing to pay if prices do not exceed 40 percent.

“We want to be part of the solution to plastic pollution. We adjust our green strategy and do the best we can. Hopefully, it could add up to something meaningful.” Patomtust says.

Spreading the green word

Delivery-only Triple S Kitchen, a spin-off of well-known catering service Kaew Kaew, follows its parent’s lead and demonstrates its commitment to the environment by using eco-friendly food packaging in order to help combat the plastic pollution plaguing in the oceans. This organic kitchen serves western and Thai dishes.

“Our kitchen skips plastic straws. They are harming oceans and marine life. You’ve probably seen a video that shows a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in his nose. Whales are washed up on beaches with stomachs full of plastic. It’s heartbreaking,” says Atipaporn Luang-on, a co-founder of Triple S Kitchen.

Kaew Kaew, which is known for its environmental and social initiatives, was founded by environment and sustainability practitioner Portip Pechporee, who has worked to promote organic farming and sustainable living.

Triple S co-founder Teeraphod Mekaimenapa says the kitchen was developed in response to consumers’ rising demand for delivery food services during the pandemic. The kitchen has helped drive a new revenue stream using existing kitchen resources and reducing food waste when Kaew Kaew was temporarily shut down during lockdowns.

“The catering business had been hit hard by the pandemic last year. And we felt the pinch. So, we came up with the virtual restaurant concept as it’s economic and eco-friendly,” he says.

Apart from green packaging, Teeraphod says he and Atipaporn educate customers about environmental protection and sustainability.

“We share tips with them on making the most of their resources in order to reduce waste and make fertilizer from their kitchen waste. It’s part of our effort to cultivate a sense of environmental and social responsibility. Protecting the planet is everyone’s responsibility.” he says.

By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Sukhumaporn Laiyok


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