January 06, 2022
Next up in our Carbon Footprint of anything series, ever wondered what the footprint of ordering in is?
The New Year has begun. People have returned to work and resolutions have been set. Gym membership registrations typically soar by 12% in January. This year however we were fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) that New Year’s Eve landed on a Friday, meaning it would be a couple more days before I hit the gym. Instead, I, like many of us, started 2022 with a bang and ordered a Saturday takeaway.
The pandemic has caused the food delivery market to double in the last two years.
How people across the world access their food has changed dramatically. Two decades ago, restaurant-quality deliveries were almost non-existant and largely limited to pizza and Chinese takeaway. This has all changed with the rise of appealing, user-friendly apps and tech-enabled driver networks which allow us to unlock ready-to-eat food delivery services from our sofas.
We are spoilt for choice when we do not want to cook. Uber Eats, Deliveroo and DoorDash deliver our favourite dishes within minutes. Today, the global food delivery market is worth over $150 billion and is still surging. The pandemic has caused the market to double in the last two years. Ordering in has become habitual, however, we often do not consider the environmental footprint of these deliveries.
So, should ordering a takeaway be giving you eco-anxiety or not?
Before jumping into any calculations, it should be noted that food deliveries vary on a case-by-case basis and comparison values should give an indication of magnitude.
Let's say you get food delivered by a 125cc petrol scooter from a burger shop that is a 3km round journey (the average distance of the first 10 recommendations on my Uber Eats app).
Let’s assume we don’t go overboard with our toppings and want to order a burger with a bun, lettuce, tomato and a choice of protein that has been cooked in some oil. Additionally, our delivery will be wrapped up with some recyclable packaging (hopefully!) and carried in a paper bag from our chosen provider. The estimated footprint of the food preparation and delivery would then equate to:
For each kilometre over this 3km radius, the footprint will increase by around 0.13 kg of CO2e due to the embodied emissions of the scooter (these are the emissions created during the manufacturing process of the scooter), the petrol and the energy the driver requires to bring us our meal.
What do the results show us? Well, unless our delivery is from across town, it is the food that we order that will impact our emissions to the greatest extent. For the quarter pounder, the delivery impact is less than 10% of the total emissions. Sorry meat-lovers, this means that a beef burger nearly emits four times as much as a vegetarian one.
Sorry meat-lovers, this means that a beef burger nearly emits four times as much as a vegetarian one.
The good news is that you can continue ordering your takeaways without worrying too much about the delivery impact.
But could deliveries be even better?
Deliveries, of course, are not only powered by fuel-using scooters. Delivery bicycle riders are often spotted touring the streets; whilst these do not consume any fossil fuels, they are also not completely carbon neutral. The embodied emissions of a bicycle are a fraction of those of a scooter or car, but the physical effort to ride one is higher, therefore there is still a small carbon contribution.
Alas, our bodies are not 100% efficient at converting food energy into mechanical output. But at about 25% efficiency, we’re surprisingly good considering that most cars are around 20%. This means that the energy riders consume will also have an associated footprint. Riding a bicycle is around 85% more sustainable than riding a petrol scooter. Fortunately, this means that with a bicycle, our delivery footprint can be further reduced and we can enjoy a vegan burger for only 0.8 kg of CO2e. In a world where we all need to move to a lean yearly footprint of around two tons of carbon dioxide per person, that is a pretty good result!
So, if one of your resolutions for this year is to be more sustainable, consider the impact you can have on the environment with something as simple as a food delivery. This way you can feel good even if you don’t make it to the gym.
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This article was originally published on LinkedIn: Should ordering in be giving you eco-anxiety?