18 January 2021

To reuse or not to reuse?

A new European study concludes that single-use paper-based packaging in quick service restaurants is better for the environment than reusable tableware.

Cake on a paper plate
© American Heritage Chocolate/Unsplash

The study released by the European Paper Packaging Association (EPPA) used a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) from Ramboll, independent Danish consultants.

Taking current primary data from the paper, packaging and foodservice industries it compared the environmental performance over a year of typical disposable and reusable food and drink containers used in a quick-service restaurant for in-store consumption.

Assuming realistic usage over a year, the energy consumption involved in the use phase of reusable plastic and traditional crockery, during in-store or out-sourced washing and drying, outweighed the environmental impact of single-use paper dishes. The baseline report reveals that reusable tableware generated 177% more CO2-e emissions than the paper-based single-use system, consumed 267% more freshwater, produced 132% more fine particulates matter, increased fossil depletion by 238% and terrestrial acidification by 72%

These figures take single use paperwear that is sourced from sustainably managed forests. Paper and board is the most recycled packaging material in Europe with a rate of around 86%. The LCA compared disposable and reusable options of a range of 24 different dishes such as hot and cold cups, clamshell boxes, and salad bowls. The report can be read here.