With growing demand for takeaway and delivery food services, it becomes increasingly urgent to lower the price point of eco-friendly food packaging.
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For the food and beverage industry, customers’ expectation for takeaway packaging is unavoidable. But “environmentally friendly” options are well known for being too costly for smaller businesses. Sometimes being double the price of the standard styrofoam or plastic options.
Foodabox has been working the past four years trying to fill that gap. The packaging company began with selling advertising space on the biodegradable boxes it uses, which lowers the cost for restaurants looking to make the switch to eco-conscious alternatives.
“Our founder Dick Lim found that paper lunch boxes cost 30 sen at the time, and plastic ones were 15 sen. So it was double the price,” Foodabox sales executive Jinn Yeoh explains.
“With his idea of using ads to defray the prices of the food boxes, we could sell it at competitive prices.”
As you may know, plastic pollution in general is a growing problem due to its extremely slow degradation.
A 2015 study in the academic journal Science, estimated that Malaysia produced 940 million kilograms of mismanaged plastic waste in 2010 alone. The report also ranked Malaysia as the eighth greatest producer of mismanaged plastic waste in the world.
Today, Foodabox has expanded to offer up eco-friendly cutlery, cups, bowls, paper straws, and customisable packaging.
However, their experience opened their eyes to the need for compromise.
Faced with the inconsistency of securing advertisers interested in the cause, Foodabox began offering recyclable plastic packaging for clients who would still prefer the cheaper price.
Jinn says that at present, Foodabox has kept plastic packaging to under 20% of their catalogue.
“The compromises we make depends on the Malaysian market. And right now the market still heavily wants everything to be convenient, easy, and cheap,” he says.
“The priority for us is to keep pushing our greener options, but we have to adapt and shift according to the market maturity.”
The dilemma Foodabox faces aptly highlights the dichotomy that continues to exist when it comes to packaging; environment-friendly versus cheap.
To break this dichotomy, Jinn says the industry needs to be steered towards the ethically responsible path instead of packaging companies keeping to the status quo and being reactionary instead of taking action.
And that is the game plan which Foodabox argues separates them from other packaging companies — the willingness to find a middle ground to keep the undecided close enough to make the switch to greener options when they are ready.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap. We know there is no 100% eco-friendly solution, but at least we have something that can help us on our way to being better for the environment,” Jinn says.
“As far as I know, a few big packaging companies do offer paper options but they are not focused. They only offer according to customer demand instead of incentivising demand.”
Further encouragement for their effort came in October, when the the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry of Malaysia launched a 12-year “Roadmap Towards Zero Single-use Plastics” by the year 2030.
Jinn says it is something that Foodabox looks forward to, as it would be a boon to their efforts.
“Every step of the way, as our society progresses, we will offer green options that best suit the readiness of buyers at that time,” he says.