2020 April-May Analysis Featured

Delivery service, restaurants saying ‘fork no!’ to plastic

The #SayNoToPlastic campaign launched by CENN within the Waste Management Program supported by USAID to raise awareness on social media has now evolved to include one of the largest food delivery services in Georgia, as well as many local restaurants and cafes. Investor.ge sat down with three of them to talk corporate social responsibility and how attitudes to waste management are changing.

Plastics take centuries to break down, which gives them ample time to make their way into the environment where they pose a threat to wildlife.

To reduce Georgia’s dependence on plastic, the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), with the support of USAID, launched the #SayNoToPlastic campaign in October 2019, in which social media users were asked to post pictures and stories describing the efforts they have made towards more sustainable living.

As local restaurants started to join in the campaign, delivery service Glovo decided to get involved as well in February 2020, and created a filter to give customers the choice to say no to plastic cutlery and packaging.

More than 1.8 million people use Glovo across the world ever year, resulting in hundreds of tons of plastic waste. The company hopes this campaign could drastically reduce that number by offering re-usable alternatives, such as wood, paper, and even plant-based packaging or cutlery.

“I believe all corporations should feel responsible about waste management,” says Glovo Marketing Manager Shalva Iosava. Iosava says that the campaign has already seen enormous success.

“We only started a week ago, and already more and more partners are signing up and want to get involved in this project. As for the consumers, the numbers speak for themselves – the sales of the participating restaurants have doubled in the past week.”

CENN expands on the purpose of the campaign: “The #SayNoToPlastic campaign is aimed at companies just as much as individuals. If companies and organizations can establish sustainable practices and give their customers an option to choose environmentally friendly products, the results will be much bigger and systematic. Often, as consumers, we are faced with the issue of not having other options and this is an excellent example of how businesses can offer that choice and encourage positive change in behavior.”

One restaurant that joined the campaign is Kiwi Vegan Cafe, which was the first vegan restaurant in Tbilisi when it was founded in 2014.

Co-founder and director Soroush Negahdari discusses how public opinion surrounding the issue of plastic waste has changed over the past five years.

“From the beginning, we’ve had this vision,” says Negahdari. “We have paper containers and bags, we didn’t have disposable cutlery, and we saw that not everybody was happy about it. People were complaining or asking us to explain why we made this choice. But with the recent campaign, people have been very understanding, seeing that we’re ultimately trying to prevent polluting the environment.”

However, he admits that the cafe can only do so much. “The scale that these companies work at is much bigger than what we do, and the effect they have is much bigger. They have better tools, and they have a larger impact.”

Negahdari says that there are still several barriers to overcome before we will see a broader switch to sustainable packaging.

“One issue is comfort,” he explains. “When people are used to having something, any kind of change is a shock or a little bit uncomfortable. You need to raise awareness, to let people know how important it is, how huge the impact is of this tiny thing that makes their life a little bit more comfortable. This is the most important part, because people need to be ready to participate and cooperate.”

Money is another barrier: “Supply and demand is not balanced. There should be good options available, including with animal rights and vegan food. If you don’t give them a good, healthy meal that is tasty and affordable, you cannot ask them to switch without any interesting offer. We try to make that available and possible, with both the food and the packaging. But the more people and companies join these kinds of campaigns, the more production and the cheaper the prices will be. That’s how it works.”

Negahdari believes that in environmental activism, time is of the essence. “With all of these issues, they’re going to get better, whether we like it or not, because they’re not sustainable. It’s about how fast we get it done to prevent further damage to the environment.”

Many restaurants that are not directly involved in the #SayNoToPlasticCampaign are still serious about reducing plastic waste.

Ana Tikaradze, founder of vegan food cafe Namu, is taking recycling to the next level.

“Waste management is even a hobby for me,” says Tikaradze. “I try to reuse most things. I use coconut oil jars that I have lying around anyway for soups. I use glass bottles with stickers on them, asking clients to return them. I use cotton for bags, and I’m talking with experts in the UK to bring in eco-friendly packaging.” The packaging alternatives she is considering are made from decomposable, plant-based materials.

Tikaradze also runs a blog on her website namu.ge, where she teaches people about composting and the three ‘Rs’ – reduce, reuse, recycle.

But it’s not just vegan and raw food cafes that are participating. Big chain restaurants are also taking on their share of the responsibility.

Giorgi Manjavidze, founder of fast food chain Manjistan, which has recently joined the Glovo campaign, says he is happy to do what he can.

“It’s an overstatement to say we’re saving the world,” says Manjavidze. “But I think that these small steps, if we take enough of them, will at least do something.”

“I remember when I was a kid, no one thought about these issues. Nowadays – I have two kids, and they participate, they say, ‘We can’t throw that out, we have to recycle it.’ And my generation is starting to think about it as well.”

Manjavidze believes that raising awareness about the issue is an important step towards changing the future. “We need to start educating people – in schools, in kindergartens, so that the new generation starts not only to think about these issues, but to act.”