Food apps drown Vietnam in plastics

June 14, 2019 | 08:50
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The breakthrough of food delivery apps has contributed to meeting the customer demand for online ordering, while also increasing the amount of plastics and nylon packaging discharged into the environment.
food apps drown vietnam in plastics
The increased convenience of food delivery comes at the price of tonnes of plastic waste, Photo: Le Toan

Garbage trucks in larger cities like Hanoi are filled to the brim with nylon bags bearing the names of restaurants and polystyrene food containers. Telling VIR about this garbage, Nguyen Thu Ha, a sanitation staff member in the capital, said that the quantity of plastic waste has increased significantly since the appearance of food delivery apps, especially at the areas with high building and office density.

In fact, the growth of food delivery apps in Vietnam is flooding the country with takeout containers, plastic utensils, and bags and the country’s patchy recycling system cannot keep up. The vast majority of this plastic ends up discarded, buried, or burned with the rest of the trash, researchers and recyclers say.

Food delivery heating up

Food delivery apps like Now, GrabFood, Go-Food, and ­Vietnammm have been gathering popularity in Vietnam with their quick services and reasonable price. These apps enable busy ­people to make orders far more frequently than before, even on a daily basis.

Launched in Vietnam almost five years ago, based on the initial idea of food rating website, Delivery Now has been rising as the dominant food ­delivery app with more than 25,000 orders a day.

Meanwhile GrabFood, which has only been operating in Vietnam for a year, is considered the fastest-growing on-demand food delivery service. It is already available in 17 cities and provinces of the country, and has reported a 250-fold growth in orders and thousands of restaurant partners since the launch.

“Thanks to our online platform, which narrows the gap between restaurants and customers, the profit margin of restaurant partners has increased by 300 per cent in a couple of months of collaboration with us,” said a representative of GrabFood.

With the backdrop of skyrocketing revenues and orders since the emergence of food delivery apps, comfortable and cheap food delivery services are also on the rise, increasing the risk of traffic accidents and exacerbating already heavy traffic jams. This service puts more drivers on the streets who rush to deliver orders as fast as possible to get higher rewards, while plastic waste has been piling up everywhere.

Assuming that the two delivery giants – Delivery Now and GrabFood – get the same number of orders, they would conduct a total of 50,000 deliveries a day, discharging hundreds of thousands of plastics boxes and nylon bags into the environment every day, which need hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose.

Increasing supply to meet demand

The latest Euromonitor International report said the food delivery market in Vietnam was worth about $33 million in 2018 and is expected to top $38 million by 2020. It predicts this trend will gradually become a habit. A report from leading market research firm GCOMM also showed that 99 per cent of survey respondents use food delivery services at least two or three times a month, while 39 per cent use it two to three times a week.

The development of food ­delivery apps is changing people’s behaviour. Instead of going to restaurants, many of them now prefer staying in and ordering food to their homes or offices. When bubble tea brands, for example, issue promotional programmes, the shippers of food delivery apps often easily outnumber customers in the stores of the Alley, TocoToco, or Gong Cha.

Coffee and bubble tea shops also report soaring orders via food delivery apps, with The Coffee House being an outstanding case. Previously, this coffee chain focused on the offline business segment. However, thanks to the convenience of food delivery apps, the chain receives thousands of online orders each day, with two or three products purchased by each order.

Leveraging this success, food delivery operators have been promoting green consumption among restaurant partners and customers. Notably, GrabFood launched the Eco-Friendly window in its app to introduce restaurants which use environmentally friendly materials and packaging. However, the company has yet to disclose the results or comment on the effectiveness of this programme, and VIR has found that little awareness of the Eco-Friendly function on the Grab app among customers.

In reality, restaurants still focus on carefully packing the food and drinks to avoid spillage or impacts during transport and pay far less heed to the packaging material they use. A restaurant partner on GrabFood and Delivery Now told VIR that business results depend on customer evaluation, so they use more plastic boxes and nylon bags to keep food warm and intact to avoid bad reviews.

According to Hoang Thi Thom, representative of plastics producer Phu Nguyen Co., Ltd., the consumption of paper packaging is ­increasing due to the customers’ rising demand for environmentally friendly products. However, plastic packaging still overwhelms environmentally-friendly packaging thanks to its price advantage, flexibility in shape and design, and light weight that makes it ideal for transportation.

In addition, there is large ­volume of customers who have yet to give up using plastic packaging, including the most harmful single-use plastics. In reality, Thom’s company sees the large potential of single-use plastic packaging, ­especially for milk tea shops and fast food restaurants are growing like mushrooms after the rain.

“The company is operating in line with the demand of the market and our partners,” said Thom. “If they want to shift to green ­products, we will follow and serve them. However, in fact, there is still great room for plastic ­products. The Vietnamese market for plastic products holds quite a potential, so we have not ­considered other materials just yet.”

By Kim Huong

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