More than 2,800 eateries in downtown have begun to improve their environmental footprint by replacing plastic bags and food bowls with paper versions for their delivery services.
The trial practice has been initially launched among restaurants at the Cloud Nine Shopping Mall in Changning District.
The aim, according to the district's market supervision bureau, is that it will be promoted citywide in a bid to cut the number of the non-degradable materials as demand for food delivery services surges.
China's three major food delivery platforms — ele.me, Meituan and Baidu — receive about 20 million daily orders nationwide, with each order incorporating at least two usually plastic bowls of food and a bag made of plastic, according to a survey report.
The plastic bags and tableware being consumed by diners in China could cover 168 standard football pitches every day, according to Meituan, which jointly launched the replacement of plastic with paper campaign with Changning's market watchdog.
Plastic has long been condemned by environmentalists worldwide as "white pollutants" because it takes hundreds of years to be degraded after being buried underground. Paper, however, takes only three months to be fully degraded.
"There are few manufacturers of degradable meal boxes, wares and bags, mainly due to higher costs," said Lai Shusheng, deputy director with the bureau. The watchdog is now seeking manufacturers who will help to further promote the campaign.
"A paper meal box costs 7.5 yuan (.10), while a paper bag costs 2.5 yuan, the costs of which are currently shared by eateries and consumers," said Zhou Shuhao, a manager in charge of delivery service at a fish hotpot restaurant in the mall in Changning.
Consumers will be charged by about 2 yuan for the paper packaging. The payment will be exempted if the order reaches a certain amount, Zhou said.
"We encourage consumers to use the paper bags repeatedly, which also becomes a good promotion since the name of our company is printed on the bags," he added.
Meituan has invested 3 million yuan to establish a "Green Mountain Foundation" to subsidize eateries and research on new degradable materials for food delivery, said Yang Bicong, an official with the food delivery platform Meituan-Dianping.
Some biodegradable materials are being developed for food delivery packing, such as starch-based materials.
The Chinese government launched a public ban on free plastic bags in 2008. Supermarkets, shopping malls and various markets are banned from offering free plastic bags to consumers, but the booming food delivery service has brought a resurgence for plastic due to its waterproof quality and low cost.