Monday, 28 October 2019

Environment Monday - Should we be giving Deliveroo and Just Eat a wide birth for the sake of the planet?

Fresh food  is healthy
If you've read our environment Monday column before, you can skip this paragraph. It just explains what it is all about. So you want to save the planet, combat climate change, leave a legacy for your children that you can be proud of but you just don't know where to start? I started the Environment Monday series of blogs to try and spread a few practical ideas, things that are practical and work. I'd love your ideas, guest blogs and help. The old adage of think global, act local has been my mantra for decades. If we all start with ourselves, look at our lifestyles, look at the small changes we can make in our carbon footprint, on our own we will make a miniscule difference, but if we do it and it works, maybe our friends will sit up take, notice and over time (which is precious), together we can start to make a big difference. Each week, we will explore a different theme, a different way that we can all make a difference.

If like me, you enjoy a tasty takeaway, then this blog might make awkward reading. We are being bombarded on TV with ads for food delivery apps. There's Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats and God knows what else. Living in North West London, you'd be hard pressed to find a cuisine that you couldn't have delivered to your door. You know the drill, get your phone, load the app, tap away and half an hour later a large bag, full of plastic tuns of tasty food arrives. You put on the box set of your choice and munch away. What could be more blissful?

But just for a minute, have a look at the bigger picture. If you care about the planet we live on, how sustainable is this way of living and how healthy is it for you? You may also want to consider the rights of the employees of the many staff working in the gig economy. It is throwing up a massive challenge to established restaurants, especially independents. Many have to use such services to get by, but this is actually cannibalising their businesses. When you buy a takeaway via a delivery service, the restaurant gets a far lower amount and loses out on sales of drinks etc, staff lose out on tips. This may not bother you, but the model works far better for large corporations. As someone who loves small independent restaurants, I fear for the future. It is not good for Londons night time economy, which is something I am a passionate campaigner for. So lets summarise the problems with these services.

1. Carbon footprint. London seems awash with cars and scooters delivering food. Many people can't be bothered to walk around the corner to collect deliveries. This all generates CO2 which adds to global warming. Deliveroo have a scheme to encourage the use of electric vehicles as have Just Eat. I would like to see these firms legally compelled to make this mandatory for all food deliveries except for independent companies. In London, there is no reason why 90% of deliveries couldn't be made by bicycle. When Domino's opened a pizza delivery service in Mill Hill, they had to provide a 'delivery plan' to mitigate the effects on neighbours. Locals asked for a commitment to bike and electric vehicle delivery. The council never even discussed this with Domino's, so we will never know if the company would be receptive. It just shows the level of apathy amongst those who could make a difference.

2. Waste and packaging. There is a huge amount of packaging generated by food delivery services. Perfectly reusable plastic tubs and bags go straight in the bin. It wasn't always this way. Back in the late 1960's, I recall "The New China Garden" chinese restaurant opening in Mill Hill. It was based in Station road and later became Hee's takeaway. They used to charge for the containers and if you brought them back, washed out, they'd give you your cash back. The charge for plastic bags has made a huge difference. I think we should compel delivery companies to operate a similar scheme. If a plastic bag costs 10p, then surely a plastic tub should cost 20p. I'd like to see standard packaging, so that these could be returned to a central point. Give them back, washed out, and you get your 20p back.

3. Health. How healthy is it to sit in your front room, munching away on mass produced food high in saturated fats and salt, with few fresh vegetables? It is an easy habit to get into. At least a walk down to the High Street to pick up a takeaway uses a few calories, but that is seen as very passe and with many orders having free delivery, why bother? The delivery price structure is often set at a level so that you order just a bit extra to get free delivery. No wonder there is an obesity crisis.

4 Rights of Employees. There are clearly issues with many of the firms working in the gig economy for such firms. Generally when massive firms do not have trades unions, there is a real risk of unfair employment practices. I read an article highlighting some of these recently. Ken Loach also addressed this in his latest film, Sorry we missed you. Should we turn a blind eye to this? Do we really want to see tech entrepreneurs getting rich on the back of exploiting young people who have few prospects. It is something you might want to consider when you place that order.

5. Destruction of the restaurant industry. Going out for dinner should be a pleasant experience, where good food is savoured. Delivery services have made food into an almost worthless commodity. I heard some people at the gym talking and one said "We got Just eat last night, there's a place in the High Street we used to go to, but now we get it delivered as it's cheaper, as we just get a bottle of wine from Tesco's and don't have to pay for coffees". What was interesting, was I recall the same guy telling me five years ago about how great the restaurant in question was. He'd said it was good value, friendly and a nice place to eat. That clearly counts for nothing in our society. As the restaurant will lose the wine and coffee sales, the waiters will lose out on the tips and the service will have to be paid for delivery, a business that was successful could find that it has cannibalised itself. Sadly, the experience of eating a well cooked meal had simply become an accompaniment to watching Eastenders. He also joked that it was better as he didn't have to talk to his wife. Although it was a joke, it said a lot to me about the way our society is going. The logical conclusion of this is that there are no restaurants, just huge factories providing bland mush at cheap prices.

I had a look at the Justeat responsible business section of their website. This is what it said

Responsible business

Our approach to responsible business is built around our company vision of creating the world’s greatest food community and is embedded across our business. Our food community is made up of our Restaurant Partners, Customers, suppliers, partners and our People.
We acknowledge that each of these groups has a role to play in ensuring Just Eat has a positive impact on the communities in which we operate.
We know that much of the impact we have is indirect, which is why we have broadened the scope of our responsible business activities beyond our owned operations.
We believe in:

Sadly nothing about the Environment. I had a look on the Deliveroo site and couldn't find a statement there either. I think it is right and proper that we draw attention to these issues and encourage such companies to work to achieve carbon neutral status and address the issues caused by the packaging. As a society we need to consider the wider issues, such as health, employees rights and the effects of such new technologies on the way we live our lives. There is clearly a massive  role for companies such as Deliveroo and Justeat in our society, but part of their cost of business should be to do things in a way that is good for the environment, our health and our high streets.

As to the question in the title, that is something you'll have to answer for yourself. I've reached my conclusions.

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