Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience
They have been in use in India for decades to carry lunch to school or work but now the 'old-fashioned' steel lunch boxes are an instrument to save the environment in an Australian town.
Taking a cue from major Indian cities, like Mumbai where there's a dedicated network of food deliverers that uses stainless steel lunch boxes, Amritpal Singh Atwal, the owner of Baba's Kitchen Indian restaurant in Seymour, north of Melbourne, has introduced the same to deliver food to his customers.
“We must know that plastic is convenient for a few minutes but it will take hundreds of years before it breaks down into microplastics, and may never disappear from the face of the world,” said Mr Singh.
“Plastic has overtaken our world leaving us a big environment question to answer - can we replace it with something sustainable – well, at least, where we can easily do it by adopting some simple habits.”
His endeavour is to contribute to the Plastic Free July* initiative to rid the society of harmful plastics.
He said that much of his inspiration comes from his Sikh faith which has concepts of love and respect for the environment for achieving a blissful state and to live in harmony with nature and all the creation.
“Many major Indian cities are saving tons of plastic wastes by using steel based tiffins, why can’t we do it here in Australia,” said Mr Singh.
He was initially circumspect about the feasibility of replacing disposable plastic containers with steel containers. “Our business is heavily dependent on single-use plastic containers for takeaways and other food deliveries. But can we use steel containers to replace it? Is it feasible at a logistic level, and what if customers don’t like the idea?”
When he just decided to implement this "bold move", to his surprise, the customer feedback was largely positive.
“Wastage of plastic was always a concern for me while working in the kitchen. So I always try to find ways to reduce plastic in my kitchen,” he added. “But it has to come from everyone. Together, we can make Australia beautiful as it always was!
He claims that within a month he has saved over 3000 plastic containers, lids, cutlery and bags.
“In June alone, we had one lot of 44 steel containers in circulation and with an ever-increasing demand we are going to double the numbers this July," he said.
“Most of our customers like it. When compared to the single-use plastic containers they want their orders delivered in the stainless steel containers – let it be Dal Makhani, Butter Chicken and Bread Nans supplied warm and fresh.”
Mr Singh is eager to use the second lot of steel boxes which he expects to get delivered from India later this week.
“We’ll immediately put them in use. It’s very straightforward arrangement. We take $20 deposit when a customer buys a takeaway and return the money when the containers are brought back,” he said
“When we deliver food to our regular customers, they return the empty container from the previous delivery. This is how they remain in circulation.”
Mr Singh has thanked the local community for supporting this initiative.
“It was made possible with the support of our customers. I won’t say it is a big contribution. It is just a humble effort towards reducing plastic waste but it will make a big difference if everyone joins in with a thought of having a future plastic free society,” he said.
Mr Singh said that using stainless steel containers is not a ‘single bullet’ solution for reducing plastic waste but it is the start of a ‘new journey’ that he wishes to embark on.
“There’re many plus-sides but with some limitations. Stainless steel is often recommended as a good choice for food packaging as it is easy to clean, durable and food safe. So I would encourage everyone to choose this delivery method provided they have a choice.”
However, it is not a win-win situation either. The restaurant owners in the Indian city of Pune have experienced that the steel tiffin box delivery system is inconvenient, expensive and cumbersome, and they simply can’t replace plastic containers, so good luck AmritPal Singh Atwal.
Excessive use of plastic has already caused problems for the environment forcing environment-lovers to act on their own.
There have been many reports raising concerns about plastic pollution contributing to a mountain of waste that ends up in landfill and the oceans.
With major supermarkets phasing out the use of single-use plastic bags, do you think you can also make a contribution?
Every small action makes a difference. Here are some steps for your consideration to maintain a plastic-free lifestyle.
*Plastic Free July is a campaign led by the Plastic Free Foundation. Each year, millions of people around the globe take the challenge and choose to refuse single-use plastics. Its vision is to see a world without plastic waste.