• Karnataka ban on plastic use stumps quick service restaurants like Cafe Coffee Day, McDonald’s, KFC

    Quick service restaurant (QSR) chains operating in Bengaluru and other parts of Karnataka have a huge packaging problem to grapple with.

    The state’s ban on serving and packing fresh food in plastic containers, effective April 1, means popular eating out and coffee chains including Cafe Coffee Day, McDonald’s and KFC have to change their packaging strategy overnight.

    This means food service businesses will have to switch to bio-degradable packaging, which restaurateurs say would increase costs to the tune of 18-30%, and would have to factor in additional costs if the move goes pan-India.

    Rahul Singh, founder of The Beer Cafe and representative of the National Restaurant Association of India, said: “Measures such as these have a cascading all-India impact. With lack of many workable options and not enough clarity, restaurateurs are working out sustainable solutions to comply with the new regulations.”

    Karnataka, with its young population has a high eating out and pub culture. Specialised tea cafe Chai Point’s chief executive Amuleek Bijral said: “The government should give a fixed timeline to all the restaurants to comply with the new guidelines. There are times when we have noticed that alternative packaging such as bagasse packaging isn’t working.”

    Chai Point has done away with plastic coated plates and introduced 100% plant material and bio-degradable bagasse-based plates and bamboo stick stirrers, while cold beverages it delivers will be done in glasses instead of plastic cups.

    “All such measures are more expensive and we are exploring ways to meet the extra costs.

    Either we will add the cost for deliveries or price our premium products factoring the packaging costs. Soon we will roll out all these measures across cities we are present in,” Bijral said.

    On average, bio-degradable packaging such as bagasse plates are 18-20% more expensive than plastic coated ones, while glass bottles are 30% costlier and rice and corn starch based spoons and forks are 15% more expensive.

    The country’s largest coffee chain Cafe Coffee Day’s group president, marketing, Bidisha Nagaraj said the brand is working on alternative solutions to certain plastic products that it has been using at its outlets such as cold beverage cups (typically used for takeaway orders), stirrers, straws and spoons.

    Likewise KFC and McDonald’s. A spokesperson for KFC said the firm is “supportive of this environment-friendly initiative to reduce plastic usage and is working with authorities to get complete clarity on the law, and find a cost-effective and sustainable solution”.

    McDonald’s India (west & south) managing director Smita Jatia said: “We are working towards customising our packaging to meet a holistic approach.”

    According to a report published by Freedonia Group, the packaging food service disposable market in India is pegged at $575 million by 2020.

    Delhi-based biodegradable tableware maker Ecoware cofounder Rhea Singhal, which supplies to leading hotels and QSR chains said the new law is expected to accelerate demand for such products.

    But the challenge, say restaurateurs, is lack of options. Rashmi Daga, founder of online food ordering startup Freshmenu said: “There are hardly any end-to-end options for biodegradable products.” 

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