“Green Nudges” Lead to Dramatic Reduction in Plastic Waste in Chinese Takeaway Food Delivery

by Ella

Hong Kong, China – A groundbreaking study reveals that the implementation of “green nudges” by a prominent Chinese food delivery platform has resulted in an astounding 648 percent increase in orders without single-use cutlery. The study, conducted by Hong Kong University Business School, in collaboration with Alibaba’s online food-ordering platform Eleme, highlights how behavioral interventions can significantly reduce plastic waste generation at the consumer level.

China’s Eleme, often compared to Uber Eats and DoorDash, played a pivotal role in this research, which aimed to curtail the use of disposable cutlery with food delivery orders.


Research Director Guojun He of EPIC-China, an author of the study and Associate Professor at Hong Kong University Business School, emphasized the significance of this approach: “Few policies target plastic waste production at the consumer level, except charges on plastic bags. Our findings show that simple nudges can make a big difference in changing consumers’ behaviors and could become a tool for policymakers as they confront the immense challenge of plastic waste.”


The study evaluated the effectiveness of Alibaba’s “green nudges” campaign, which included altering the default selection to “no cutlery” and offering green points as incentives for not opting for cutlery. Accumulated green points could then be redeemed to plant a tree in the customer’s name.


Researchers analyzed two years’ worth of food-ordering data, spanning from 2019 to 2020, from 10 major Chinese cities. This included three cities (Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin) with the green nudges and seven control cities (Qingdao, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan, and Chengdu) without such interventions.


The results were striking: a remarkable 648 percent increase in customers choosing not to include plastic cutlery with their food orders, instead receiving “green points” as rewards.

The researchers extrapolated the potential impact of these “green nudges” if applied nationwide, estimating that more than 21.75 billion sets of single-use cutlery could be saved annually. This equates to a staggering 3.26 million metric tons of plastic waste and the preservation of 5.44 million trees (originally used for wooden chopsticks) every year.

In 2021, the world produced over 400 million metric tons of plastic waste, with predictions indicating that plastic waste generation will continue to outpace reduction efforts in the coming decades. The surge in single-use cutlery due to the increased popularity of food delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a pressing environmental challenge worldwide.

The researchers emphasized the importance of reducing single-use cutlery waste in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of such items. As of 2019, over 540 million Chinese consumers actively used food-delivery services, contributing to the consumption of more than 50 million sets of single-use cutlery daily, often inadequately treated or disposed of.

China has set an ambitious target of reducing single-use cutlery usage in food deliveries by 30 percent by 2025.

Guojun He believes that the success of “green nudges” in China could inspire similar initiatives on global food delivery platforms like UberEats and DoorDash, offering a promising solution to the global issue of cutlery consumption and plastic waste.



Wellfoodrecipes is a professional gourmet portal, the main columns include gourmet recipes, healthy diet, desserts, festival recipes, meat and seafood recipes, etc.

【Contact us: [email protected]

Copyright © 2023