Study: Singapore households generated additional 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste during circuit breaker

Amid heightened concerns about hygiene and a surge in food delivery and takeaway orders because of the circuit breaker, the consumption of single-use plastics has inevitably spiked. — TODAY pic
Amid heightened concerns about hygiene and a surge in food delivery and takeaway orders because of the circuit breaker, the consumption of single-use plastics has inevitably spiked. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, June 6 — An extra 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste, equivalent to the weight of 92 double-decker buses, was generated from takeaway and delivery meals during the two-month circuit breaker period of stay-home curbs, a survey has found.

The study, led by six alumni students from the National University of Singapore’s Master of Science (Environmental Management) programme, was released yesterday.

It was done at a time when environmental efforts, such as bring-your-own-container schemes, have ground to a halt during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amid heightened concerns about hygiene and a surge in food delivery and takeaway orders because of the circuit breaker that restricted social and business activities in April and May, the consumption of single-use plastics has inevitably spiked.

The online survey, done from May 17 to 25, tried to pin down just how much.

Through a set of mostly multiple-choice questions, the former students asked some 1,110 respondents questions such as how often they ordered meals from delivery platforms such as GrabFood and Deliveroo before and during the circuit breaker, and whether they opt for disposable cutlery when ordering.

The largest group of respondents, making up 32 per cent, were those aged 20 to 29. Another 28 per cent of respondents were aged 30 to 39 and 19 per cent were between 40 and 49 years old. Four per cent of the respondents were aged 19 and below.

What the survey found

1. Rise in amount of plastic generated

To calculate the amount of extra plastic waste generated during the circuit breaker period from April 7 to June 1, the team asked respondents to indicate how many times each week they bought takeaway and delivery meals for their households, both before and during that period.

The team then calculated the weight of disposable cutlery and containers generated through these orders for each of the respondents. The weight of each container was assumed to be 25g while the weight of one cutlery set was taken to be 10g.

The amount of plastic waste generated by all of the respondents’ households before the circuit breaker was summed up and the same was done for the circuit breaker period.

The difference was then divided by the 1,110 respondents to attain the average amount of plastic waste generated for each household a week, for both the period before and during the circuit breaker.

This weekly figure was then multiplied by the total number of resident households in Singapore and by eight — as the circuit breaker lasted eight weeks.

The team then found that based on these calculations, Singaporean households generated an extra 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste during the circuit breaker.

2. Rise in number of delivery and takeaway meals

The survey asked for respondents to indicate how many meals they ordered for their households on average each week before and during the circuit breaker.

It found that the number of meal deliveries shot up by 73 per cent during the circuit breaker period. For every 100 households, there were 487 food delivery orders before the circuit breaker and this ballooned to 841 during the period.

The number of takeaway meals also went up by 18 per cent. There were 1,329 takeaway meals for every 100 households before the circuit breaker, and this rose to 1,565 meals during the period.

3. Increased frequency of online grocery shopping

The frequency of online grocery purchases increased by 50 per cent, from 34 to 51 orders for every 100 households each week.

Of those that increased the frequency of their purchases, 35 per cent of them were aged 29 and below, followed by 33 percentaged between 30 and 39.

Respondents aged 29 and below and those aged 50 and above increased the frequency of their online grocery purchases at the highest rates.

The study found that among those who bought groceries more frequently, 69 respondents aged 29 and younger made online purchases for their households an average of 17 times each week before the circuit breaker. However, they made 115 orders each week during the circuit breaker — a jump of almost seven times.

For the 33 respondents aged 50 and above who shopped for groceries more frequently, they made an average of nine online purchases for their households each week. However, this jumped to 56 orders each week during the circuit breaker, about six times more.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The team proposed several recommendations to cut down plastic waste based on its findings:

  • Food delivery businesses to set “no cutlery” as default on their mobile applications
  • Food delivery businesses to allow patrons to limit searches on their applications to environment-friendly takeaway options such as paper-based packaging
  • When taking orders, staff members of food-and-beverage businesses should ask if customers would like to choose not to receive plastic cutlery 

As its next step, the team will share the survey recommendations to the relevant authorities, such as the National Environment Agency and food delivery businesses, to guide their policymaking and business decisions. — TODAY

Related Articles