When Mangaluru resident Surendra Salian read an appeal made by BJP MLA Vedavyas Kamath about reducing plastic waste, he decided to explore ways he could help the cause.
Surendra, the manager of Tandoor restaurant in the city, decided to pack food delivered by the restaurant using banana leaves instead of plastic. "We receive more than hundred online orders every day, so we thought why don't we replace plastic with banana leaves and butter paper. The packaging looks better and is cheaper for us compared to plastic," says Surendra. The restaurant has now begun packing dishes like fish fry, chicken sukka, and kebabs in banana leaves.
The decision taken by the restaurant and the MLA's message of reducing plastic is now catching on in other restaurants in Mangaluru.
"Other restaurants are now looking at how Tandoor did it and are exploring ways to reduce the use of plastic. This was our plan. If we are able to introduce the idea to people and companies, then it could influence their thinking and prompt them to explore how they can begin doing this," says Vedavyas Kamath, a BJP MLA from Mangaluru (South) constituency.
Vedavyas discussed the idea with caterers in the city as well as members of the Association of Hotels and Restaurants in the district. "Plastic is not recyclable and by substituting it with banana or areca leaves, we are helping reduce wastage in the environment. In coastal Karnataka, there are many farmers growing arecanut and banana and these farmers will be able to sell products manufactured using their leaves. This will strengthen the farmers who make these products as well," says Vedavyas.
According to Surendra, the switch to banana leaves should be easier to make in coastal Karnataka, where people are accustomed to eating out of banana leaves and also preparing food enclosed in leaves like Kadubu and Pathrode. "In Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada, people eat out of banana leaves and make food enclosed in leaves. So, it is not a surprise to people when we start sending food packed in banana leaves," adds Surendra.
Popular online food delivery companies Zomato and Swiggy have also taken notice of Vedavyas' plea. In a September 2018 blog post, Zomato had revealed that online food delivery companies were generating up to 22,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste every month. "And whether we intend it or not, quite a lot of it ends up in the ocean. Much as we care about delighting our partners and our users, we must also care about the impact we have on our planet," read the post by Deepinder Goyal, founder and CEO of Zomato.
Swiggy is also looking to address the amount of plastic waste generated by online food delivery orders. The company launched Swiggy Packaging Assist, a marketplace allowing restaurants to access eco-friendly packaging options made of glass and paper. The company is also set to roll out a feature in which users can opt out of receiving disposable plastic cutlery in their orders. "We will work with relevant bodies, restaurant partners and our users to promote the need to start addressing this issue through other long-term and sustainable plans,” a Swiggy spokesperson told TNM.
Vedavyas and Surendra are now hoping that restaurants in Mangaluru can set an example for the rest of the country and help reduce plastic waste generated. "There are challenges but they can be overcome if restaurants try to make the switch," says Surendra. "The only difference we have seen so far is that packaging using banana leaves is more time consuming because they have to be tied carefully. Otherwise, in every aspect, we have found it to be better."