SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - As takeaway and delivery orders shot up after the circuit breaker period kicked in last month, a chicken rice seller drove around frantically in search of disposable food containers.
As several suppliers had run out of stock, Mr Daniel Tan, 40, finally managed to buy 5,000 containers from a retail store. Despite paying $1,150 for them, about 35 per cent more than the wholesale price, he was relieved to get his hands on them.
The owner of OK Chicken Rice in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 told The New Paper of his container hunt: "I was panicking and it was very stressful."
Mr Tan added that he decided not to raise prices and absorbed the extra cost, despite already paying more for rice and raw chicken by 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
The shortage and high prices of food containers were a common refrain among eatery and stall operators after dining-in was banned as circuit breaker measures took effect on April 7.
Of the 28 operators contacted by TNP, seven said they had problems with supplies and several others complained of having to pay up to 20 per cent more as prices went up because of demand.
Mr Alex Ng, director of Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee, said some of its six outlets would run out of plastic containers about two days a week and had to resort to packing the food orders in plastic bags.
He said that suppliers would often run of stock, and even when the containers are available, some sizes and shapes, like square boxes, would be sold out.
Despite their problems, most of the food sellers, like Mr Tan, were reluctant to raise their prices.
Mr Ng said: "There are many uncertainties now, so we want to absorb the cost as long as we can."
Ms Mizrea Abu Nazir, 48, who co-owns nasi lemak stall Mizzy Corner in Changi Village Hawker Centre, said she made two trips to a supply store in the first two weeks of the circuit breaker to stock up on styrofoam containers, despite paying $3 more than the usual price of $9.90 for 50 containers.
She said: "Sometimes, supplies get delayed and cannot meet the demand of all the stalls at Changi Village."
As food sellers try to cope with the container problem, some environmentalists are urging customers to take along their own containers for takeaway orders.
If more people do that, they argue, it would not only ease the container shortage, but also help the environment by reducing plastic and styrofoam waste.
A spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said: "Using personal food containers will not only reduce the amount of waste generated, it will also ease the demand on disposable containers."
A spokesman for the Federation of Merchants' Associations Singapore told TNP: "It would help the hawkers incur lower costs if the customers provide their own containers."
SAP Thai Food owner Calvin Law said he has been encouraging his customers to provide their own containers even before the circuit breaker.
He said: "It is good if they provide their own as it will help to save costs. We charge extra for the containers, so this is a way they can save money and also the environment."
A spokesman for local initiative LehLongSG said it has partnered with plasticware supplier Toyogo to supply 1,000 reusable meal boxes to food businesses to give to customers to encourage reuse.
The National Environment Agency said 73,000 tonnes of waste was generated in homes and stores during the circuit breaker period in April, up 11 per cent from March, The Straits Times reported last week.
Environmental group Green Drinks president Olivia Choong said more plastic consumption could lead to more emissions as plastics intended for recycling are getting incinerated instead, with some countries rejecting waste from overseas.
She urged food sellers to check with customers if they need disposable utensils before sending orders out.
Business analyst Felicia Law, 27, takes along her own containers for orders of about 10 takeaway meals a week.
"Every small effort can add up to significant results. I have less rubbish, and the stalls can save on some costs," she said. "It should become a habit for all of us to have our own containers for takeaway."