Food delivery boosts use of plastic packaging in Brazil

Food delivery boosts use of plastic packaging in Brazil

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the consumption of take-out food to skyrocket – and with it, that of plastics for packaging, in addition to straws, cups, plates, and cutlery. Plastic consumption in the delivery sector jumped 46% from 2019 to 2021. It means a rise to 25,000 tonnes from 17,000 tonnes of single-use plastic products: 68 tonnes per day and 2.8 tonnes per hour.

In 2018, Brazilian households spent R$508 billion on food. Take-out food accounted for R$12.3 billion, or 2.4% of the market. The data is part of a study by Oceana, the largest NGO focused exclusively on protecting the oceans.

The study seeks to map how the change in consumption habits caused by the pandemic affected plastic pollution in Brazil. It was prepared by consultancy ExAnte economists with data from the statistics agency IBGE.

The study also recalls that research done in 2017 and published in the scientific journal Science Advances revealed that in less than two years, almost 100% of the short-lived plastic packaging produced worldwide has already been consumed and discarded. They do not degrade, they last hundreds of years.

Plastic particles have been found in the placenta of pregnant women. In March, researchers at Vrije University in Amsterdam found, for the first time, the presence of microplastics in the bloodstream.

Plastic is responsible for at least 70% of the waste found on the Brazilian coast. It threatens turtles, whales, dolphins, and more than 800 species. It has been found in the stomachs of polar bears and even elephants.

The #DeLivreDePlastico campaign was launched during the pandemic, in December 2020, by Oceana and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The idea was to require delivery app companies to commit to reducing plastics for packaging products, replacing them with reusable or proven biodegradable options.

“These companies are central in the chain that links what is produced by the plastic industry to the food sector and, as a result, with the problem of pollution,” says environmental engineer Lara Iwanicki, Oceana’s campaign manager.

The intention is for food delivery apps to commit, among other actions, to encourage partner restaurants in the country to deliver food free from single-use plastic. “In a second phase, we want them to present plastic reduction targets. With so much profit, and benefiting from this scenario, it is unacceptable that these companies do so little in return,” she says.

A year ago, iFood offered customers using the app the option to waive the delivery of cutlery, cups, straws, and other plastic items by restaurants. More than 40% of the restaurants in the company’s base offer this option today, out of a total of 200,000 restaurants in the country. The goal is to have 100,000 restaurants integrated into the effort, says environmental engineer André Borges, head of sustainability at the company, the leader in the Brazilian market.

The result was that 94% of consumers replied that they prefer not to receive cutlery and straws. The impact of the action was more than 200 million orders dispensing single-use plastics since July 2021. The average number of orders is about 60 million per month.

That is, 25% of the customers place their orders and do not want the plastics. “We know that there is a pandemic effect and that the percentage will decrease, but it is a good start,” says Mr. Borges. In the company’s accounts, the reduction would be 510 tonnes less of plastics.

IFood’s plan also has two pillars, in addition to reducing consumption. The second is the replacement of plastic packaging for other materials, such as paper, corn straw, and even manioc-based material. “The problem is that they can be up to ten times more expensive than the others,” says Mr. Borges. The last pillar is recycling. “We hope that other players will join this effort,” he says.