Pollution solution

Pollution solution

'Super app' Gojek aims to cut plastic waste from popular food delivery service, one driver at a time. By Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Jakarta

The Indonesian do-it-all app Gojek is taking steps to tackle the mounting problem of plastic waste, to which it has inadvertently contributed through its hugely popular food delivery service.

Gofood is now available in 74 cities with 400,000 food merchant partners, most of them small and mom-and-pop eateries previously unserved by existing delivery businesses. That adds up to a lot of packaging in a country that is already the second biggest source of plastic waste (after China) in the world's oceans.

Gojek co-founder Kevin Aluwi, speaking at a July 22 event to unveil a new corporate logo, said some food merchant partners had begun charging customers for plastic spoons and forks, and some had also switched to biodegradable or paper-based containers. And Gofood itself is ready to do its part.

"Starting this month, we are distributing special bags to drivers whose Gofood order volumes are high. The bag can contain a lot of food orders, so there is no need to use plastic bags [for individual orders]anymore," he said in response to a question from Asia Focus about how the company aimed to solve the plastic waste problem.

As well, disposable cutlery is available on the app menu -- but at an additional cost starting at 1,000 rupiah (about 7 US cents).

The anti-waste initiatives are in keeping with the spirit embodied by the new logo, which resembles a simple power-on button and has been dubbed "Solv". Gojek is aiming to be Southeast Asia's super app offering more than 20 on-demand services, including grocery shopping, house cleaning, massage, laundry and vehicle maintenance and repairs in a single platform.

That's in addition to the document delivery and motorcycle ride-hailing services that were the first offerings of the company when it was founded in 2015. Now valued at US$10 billion and offering services from food to finance, Gojek is looking to make itself indispensable to consumers.

The food delivery service is also now available in Vietnam, where it is the second-biggest player in the segment, and Thailand, where the company has expanded along with its motorcycle and car-hailing services. Gojek is now eyeing Singapore, where its car drivers may have to handle food deliveries because the city-state doesn't recognise motorcycle taxis, said Andre Soelistyo, the president of Gojek Group.

"Gofood has become the largest food delivery service in Southeast Asia, even larger than similar services in India even though our population is only a quarter of India's," he said.

But food delivery apps have become so popular in so many countries that excess use of takeout plastic containers, utensils and packaging has become a major concern.

The Indian restaurant portal Zomato, which has a food delivery service that processes 16.5 million orders a month, is a case in point. Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal wrote in a September 2018 blog post that an "unintended consequence" of the business was that it had increased the use of more plastic packaging material.

All the food delivery aggregators in India combined process around 35-40 million orders a month, he wrote.

"These many orders add up to 22,000 tonnes of plastic waste created every month in India. And whether we intend it or not, quite a lot of it ends up in the ocean," Mr Deepinder wrote. "Much as we care about delighting our partners and our users, we must also care about the impact we have on our planet."

The Zomato app now offers consumers an option not to include plastic cutlery in their orders, and works with food merchant partners to help them comply.

Mr Andre of Gojek said the app had been "highly anticipated in other markets", having reached 1 million orders in less than two months after its launch in Vietnam and Singapore and less than three months after its Thailand debut.

Despite its initial success in the three countries, Gojek has hit a speed bump in the Philippines. It lost an appeal in March against the government's rejection of an operating licence for its ride-hailing service because it exceeded the foreign ownership cap.

However, it is still able to offer its Gopay service in the Philippines by investing in a local fintech company, Coins.ph, aiming to serve millions of unbanked Filipinos.

In fact, the focus of future expansion will be on financial inclusion and moving toward a cashless society.

"Gojek has evolved a lot from where it started. It is no longer a just a ride-hailing and food delivery app, and our initial logo no longer represented the merchants from other services we have. We need a new symbol that represents our evolution and other services," co-founder and CEO Nadiem Makarim said at the logo launch.

The logo has been variously interpreted as a map pin, a bull's eye, an aerial view of a motorcyclist, or a power button. It reflects Gojek's wide range of offerings to solve consumers' need for transport, payment and food, to logistics, entertainment and lifestyle.

Gopay was one obvious solution, Mr Nadiem said, when the company realised that drivers often had difficulty making change for passengers, which became a source of frustration for both parties.

Amazingly, the service that started it all, the motorcycle taxi or ojek -- from which the word Gojek was derived -- is still not recognised as a mode of transport under Indonesia's transport law, despite massive demand and the huge number of jobs Gojek has created.

Gojek, through its four services -- motorcycle and car rides, food delivery and lifestyle services -- has contributed 44.2 billion rupiah in added value to the Indonesian economy, according to a recent study by The Lembaga Demografi at Universitas Indonesia school of economics and business. The sum represents additional income that Gojek partners, including drivers and food providers, earned after joining the platform.

It also found that the motorcycle taxi drivers earned on average more than the average minimum wage in nine major cities in Indonesia where the survey was conducted.

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