India’s wastage warrior who believes in the need to move towards a circular economic model

By Shashwat Gupta*

Food delivery has become a “new normal”. The transition from eating out to ordering in has been rapid. The Indian online food delivery industry is growing at a staggering rate, rising from a $5 Bn market in 2020 to an estimated $22 Bn market by 2026, which is a CAGR of 29%! The industry has attracted huge investments and mind-boggling valuation numbers on the back of strong growth potential. The service has empowered Indian customers by bringing a host of cuisines and options at their fingertips. Rising digital awareness among millennials and the COVID-19 lockdowns have permanently reserved a spot for online food delivery apps on every Indians smartphone.

Revolutionary transformations usually come with consequences and for the food delivery industry, the challenge is packaging waste, particularly the rise of single-use plastics. It offers convenience and hygiene safety at the cost of generating pollution and greenhouse gas. About 3000 tonnes of waste is generated from the 60 million food orders that are delivered each month, which then makes its way either to the ocean or landfills. Is there a way to get the benefits of single-use plastic while minimizing its negative impacts?

The key problem with conventional food packaging is that it is one time use. They key to a sustainable environment-friendly solution must be reusable and recyclable. This is where InfinityBox comes in, a reverse logistics and hygiene management platform, who are tying up with players in the food industry with the aim of reducing wastage from food deliveries. They are doing this by eliminating single-use packaging while retaining the benefits of hygiene, safety, and ease of use. The team manufactures their own high-quality, leakage-resistant containers which can be reused up to 100 times and then recycled. They hold relationships with major food delivery apps and restaurants.

Their containers have the following distinguishing features:

  1. They are traceable, each container has a unique QR code which allows the InfinityBox team to keep track of it
  2. Made of polypropylene, which is harder, more heat resistant and has a higher chemical resistance than single use polythene
  3. Containers are leakage-free and can keep food warm for 30-40 minutes which is much more than the average delivery time
  4. Include plates for ease of food consumption

InfinityBox’s is adding value to every stakeholder involved in the process:

  1. Restaurants and Hotels:
  • Better quality packaging
  • An environment friendly rating
  1. Food Aggregators:
  • Eco-friendly perception
  • Improved branding
  • Carbon credits
  • Aligned with the law that bans the use of single-use plastic
  1. Consumers:
    • Providing a way to take part in the zero-waste movement and contribute towards a cleaner environment
    • Better quality containers
  2. Environment:
    • Reduction of waste creation
    • Adopting the policy of reuse and recycle, creating a sustainable solution

Shashwat Gangwal (the Founder of InfinityBox) believes that the biggest difficulty in replacing single-use plastic containers is the associated behavior change. Most consumers are quite used to receiving food deliveries in the single use plastic containers which are light-weight non-recyclable and makes its way straight to the garbage pile.

To combat this challenge, InfinityBox is making it extremely easy for its customers and food delivery partners to adopt their containers. They are starting out by targeting certain customer segments which they believe would be more environmentally conscious, offering them to opt-in for this service. Once the container is delivered to a customer, they have four options to return it:

  1. Schedule a pick-up for a particular time
  2. Return it immediately to the delivery person
  3. Return it during their next order delivery
  4. Deposit it to their designated smart bins which are available in certain societies and office areas

Once returned, the containers are bought to InfinityBox’s partner kitchens who follow lab certified washing protocols with industry grade sanitizers and dishwashing liquid. They follow multiple quality check parameters before the containers re-enter the circulation cycle. The team actively tracks each container’s location, usage history, quality condition, and so on to maximize the re-usage of each container without compromising its hygiene. They provide detailed dashboards to their food delivery partners for ease of scheduling and tracking.

A simple schematic of how the cycle works:

Another challenge faced by InfinityBox is the acceptance by restaurants. They are very happy with the product, since it is made from high-quality Tupperware material, which is leak-proof, keeps food warm, is microwave friendly, looks premium and is easy to use. The problem is that they are uncertain whether their customers will accept this new packaging, and this would affect their sales.

InfinityBox has conducted pilot runs in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Kharagpur, consistently recording acceptance rates of 70-90%, which indicates that majority of the customers liked the product. From an operations POV, in the Mumbai pilot which ran for 1 month, they were able to reach 10K+ people, reduce plastic waste by 20+ Kg and successfully collect back all their containers.

On the B2C front, Shashwat and his team have completed successful pilots and their current aim is to gain popularity in Bangalore area by area, and then gradually expand to other cities. InfinityBox has also launched pilots into the B2B segment, offering their products to large offices and manufacturers, which has significantly increased their customer reach and potential for positive environmental contribution on a daily basis.

Shashwat believes that we all need to move towards a circular economic model which focuses on valuing our resources right from the production to the end of its life.

In India, where food delivery agents like Swiggy and Zomato are completing millions of orders every single day, it’s important to be cognizant about the amount of plastic ending up in the landfills and the ocean. A sustainable environmentally friendly future is certainly circular, not linear.

The infinity box products, and smart bins being installed for collection and reuse purpose:

*Second-year PGP student at IIM Ahmedabad

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