Convenience at a cost: the environmental impact of food delivery services

How our takeaway habits are hurting the planet

Sarah Lahiri
14th March 2022
Image: Pixabay
Food delivery services are easily one of the most convenient and accessible things to come out of the 21st century. Between late night cravings, sheer laziness and busy days, Just Eat and Deliveroo are everyone’s built-in best friend. However, even though the surge in the food delivery-industry brings consumer benefits, it is an environmental disaster.

As the number of delivery services increase, online payment becomes more secure and people’s disposable income increases, the environment is left to grapple with single-use packaging, increasing transport costs and emissions and excess food waste.

Food delivery isn’t just the food you order. It is the kitchen foil around it, the container it is placed in, the additional napkin, plastic straw and utensils that are then all placed in a bigger bag that you then receive.

Takeaway containers are generally made of plastic or styrofoam which are not biodegradable and take around 500 years to decompose. This essentially increases the total solid waste generated per household, and contributes majorly to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Transporting and disposing of these then require huge quantities of raw material and energy to break them down in landfills.

Just Eat, the UK’s leading food-delivery service, yields 588 million delivery orders per year alone.  To put that into perspective, that is 588 million trips back and forth on the road and over 588 million plastic to-go containers from one service alone. The UK has 24.8 million food delivery app users and this is steadily increasing owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the nature of the industry on a global scale as a whole, regulation of it is not a viable solution. However, individual sustainable choices can go a long way! Limiting the need for single-use containers or simply reusing them later, ordering from restaurants that use sustainable packaging or even opting out of napkins and plastic utensils are small steps you can take to make the next time you order food online more sustainable.

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