A Chinese environmental NGO has sued the country’s three biggest food delivery platforms—Baidu Waimai, Ele.me, and Meituan—over their environmentally harmful practices. On Friday, the No. 4 Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing accepted the case. This is the first lawsuit against food delivery companies over pollution in China, local media is reporting.

The plaintiffs, the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing, alleges that the food delivery apps do not let customers easily opt out of disposable utensils such as chopsticks. One delivery company can end up killing 6700 trees from its 13 million orders within one day (in Chinese), the NGO says in an open letter. The in-house delivery services of McDonald’s and KFC are also on its watch list.

On the same day that the court accepted the case, Meituan announced (in Chinese) the launch of the “Green Mountain Project” (our translation) to increase its green efforts. On the to-do list is adding a utensil opt-out button to its app.

Utensil opt-out is not directly outlined by Chinese laws, but the authorities have stepped up to hold businesses more accountable for their environmental impact. Under the newly amended Environmental Protection Law effective from January 2015, “enterprises, public institutions and any other producers/business operators shall prevent and reduce environmental pollution and ecological destruction, and shall bear the liability for their damage caused by them in accordance with the law” (Article 6).

Preceding the food delivery case is the mass public outcry over the waste generated by express packaging. Last year, the State Postal Bureau published a figure that shocked China’s e-commerce lovers: the amount of adhesive tape used by China’s courier services in 2015 was enough to circle the earth 425 times (in Chinese). The courier giants are well aware of the rise of an environmentally aware consumer base. Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics arm, announced last June a “green package” initiative and by September 5th, the platform has delivered 3 million of them (in Chinese), the company claims.

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.

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