Meet the duo behind London’s first plastic-free takeaway business

·3-min read
 (Sam Wright)
(Sam Wright)

Like so many of us, Anshu Ahuja used to get home from work on a Friday night, collapse in front of the television and order a takeaway. Every time, though, it would come with a hefty helping of guilt.

‘It would arrive on a noisy scooter in a puff of smoke, packaged in a pile of plastic,’ she says. ‘The impact on the planet was so obvious.’

During her childhood in Mumbai, the dabbawalas system delivered food by bicycle in reusable tiffin tins known as dabbas. ‘I thought, there must be a way of taking this centuries-old system and using technology to modernise it for London,’ she says.

A DabbaDrop feast (Sam Wright)
A DabbaDrop feast (Sam Wright)

The result is DabbaDrop, London’s first plastic-free and emissions-free takeaway service. Anshu, a former television producer and keen cook, began the company in 2018 with fellow Hackney mum Renee Williams, whose background was in restaurant operations and events. It delivers South Asian food including dals and vibrant curries to Londoners in dabba tins, with sides such as ginger jam and roti packaged in compostable pots and paper bags.

Over the past three years the business has saved more than 135,000 plastic boxes from landfill, an achievement that makes the friends light up with pride. ‘It’s proof that small changes, like the takeaway you choose, really add up,’ says Renee.

DabbaDrop works on a subscription basis, allowing customers the option to pre-order one regularly changing menu each week. ‘All our meals are cooked according to how many people we’ll be feeding that week, which means nothing goes to waste,’ says Anshu.

DabbaDrop co-founders Renee Williams, left, and Anshu Ahuja (Sam Wright)
DabbaDrop co-founders Renee Williams, left, and Anshu Ahuja (Sam Wright)

‘We also try to use as much of the ingredients as possible, so if we’re doing a pumpkin curry we’ll include the skin, for example,’ adds Renee. ‘Any waste we do have we compost.’ They use the green waste and recycling company First Mile to help with this.

Initially DabbaDrop’s menus were vegetarian but, due to customer demand, they’re now totally plant-based. ‘So many people wanted the vegan option, so we responded,’ says Anshu. ‘It was easy for us to swap out the paneer for tofu.’

The company uses its own fleet of cyclists, as well as low-impact delivery companies such as Ecofleet and Pedal Me. The DabbaDrop team has calculated that on average each of their mains (a curry, salad and dal) has a 75 per cent lower carbon footprint than a standard Indian takeaway.

It’s paying off. The business has expanded rapidly from its east London origins, spreading to parts of north London and recently starting to deliver in south-east London, too. ‘There’s definitely a growing audience of people who want a delicious takeaway without the guilt,’ says Anshu.

Why does sustainability matter?

‘We both have children and we want them to grow up seeing the beauty we’ve been fortunate to see, not choking on pollution.’

How has tech helped DabbaDrop to grow?

‘We use a specialist platform called Chargebee, which allows customers to subscribe to us — it’s the cornerstone of what we do.’

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