Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tiffin story

Nicked this from Straits Times

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March 30, 2009

5% off meals if you bring own container

By Goh Yi Han

IN THE past, many Singaporeans would carry along their own tiffin carriers when they bought food from street hawkers.

Now, foodcourts in Singapore are helping to revive the practice of using one's own containers for takeaway food.

Most local chains already charge customers an extra 10 or 20 cents for takeaway food in plastic microwaveable containers. This is to cover the extra costs incurred by stallholders.

However, at least one operator is now offering a discount on food purchased if patrons provide their own containers.

Banquet Holdings, which runs the Banquet chain of halal foodcourts, gives customers a 5 per cent discount if they supply their own containers. This promotion is available at most eateries owned by the company, including more than 10 Banquet foodcourt outlets located across the island.

'This is a step that we have taken in order to persuade our customers to be more environmentally friendly,' said a company spokesman. It also saves money for the company, which does not have to spend as much on buying and storing disposable cutlery and containers.

And at least one educational institution is of like mind.

From this month onwards, students and staff at the National University of Singapore (NUS) are being encouraged to use reusable containers for takeaway food. It is a joint project by Students Against Violation of the Earth, which is a standing committee under the NUS Student Union, and two university offices.

Project leader Ong Wei Tao, a third-year social work student, said the 'Project Box' campaign is aimed at reducing the use of disposable containers in the school's foodcourts. This would benefit consumers, vendors and the environment, he added.

Environmental organisations have welcomed the move.

'There are benefits to avoiding the use of disposables,' said Mr Howard Shaw, the executive director of the Singapore Environment Council. 'Plastic containers are made with non-renewable resources. It's a terrible waste for a product to be manufactured for a single use of less than half an hour.'

It is an uphill battle though. Despite Banquet's efforts, customer reactions have been mixed.
Salesgirl Winnie Choy, 36, said: 'Disposable containers are more convenient - after eating, you just throw the box away.'

Ms Samsiah Siron, 49, who is unemployed, said the throwaway boxes cost only 10 cents each and she 'can reuse them many times'.

However, Mr Shaw cautioned against such reuse. Studies have shown that these containers cannot stand up to such usage as they are not made for this purpose. Constant exposure to heat could cause toxic plastic compounds to leach out, Mr Shaw said.

Other foodcourts are, for now, not actively encouraging customers to use their own containers.
'If a patron should suffer food poisoning, it would be difficult to ascertain the cause: the patron's own wares or the stall involved,' said a spokesman for Horizon Food Mall.

The National Environment Agency said that while food establishments must maintain sound hygiene standards, members of the public should also take personal responsibility and use only clean containers for takeaway food.

Second-year NUS business student Meryl Lee, 20, agreed. 'In our parents' time, there weren't any problems with hygiene when they used tiffin carriers. Besides, I would actually feel safer using my own containers than the crockery at cafeterias, which has been cleaned by other people.'

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