Resource Use

Reusable packaging up to 85 per cent more climate-friendly than single-use, says report

A report released earlier this week (7 December) by Zero Waste Europe and Reloop, in partnership with the University of Utrecht, has found that reusable packaging is up to 85 per cent more climate-friendly than single-use, generating far fewer carbon emissions.

The study, entitled “Reusable vs Single-Use Packaging: A Review of Environmental Impact”, compares 32 Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of 11 different types of packaging, analysing their environmental impact at different stages of the product’s life, taking into account factors such as production, transport, number of reuse opportunities, and end-of-life treatment.

In its comparisons of reusable packaging and its single-use counterparts, the report reveals that reusable glass bottles produce 85 per cent fewer carbon emissions than single-use glass bottles, 75 per cent fewer carbon emission than plastic (PET), and 57 per cent fewer carbon emissions than aluminium cans.

Plastic cratesSimilarly, reusable plastic crates produce 88 per cent fewer carbon emissions than single-use cardboard boxes, 64 per cent fewer emissions than a box made of mixed materials, and 5 per cent fewer emissions than a wooden crate.

The way packaging is transported, including distance and mode of transport, was found to have the biggest effect on a piece of packaging’s environmental impact.

The report also identifies key measures to improve the sustainability of reusable packaging, including the standardisation of packaging, implementation of deposit return schemes (DRS), and changing how the packaging is transported, all of which could reduce the carbon emissions of reusable containers.

Clarissa Morawski, CEO at Reloop, said: "This report shows that there is not a zero-sum choice between reducing carbon emissions and reducing waste when it comes to saving the planet.

"Urgent and innovative measures must be introduced to encourage the use of efficient reusable containers while reducing the impact single-use containers have on the environment.

"The findings tell us that extremely high collection rates are the key to improving the carbon footprint of reusable and single-use packaging. Governments must now introduce mandatory measures that require packaging producers to achieve these rates, so that effective solutions, such as deposit systems for beverage containers, can deliver benefits for both the economy and the environment.”

Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, said: "The report reinforces the need to stop looking at packaging as an essential asset to a product, and to start focusing on efficiency and rethinking the current way of delivering products to consumers. While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit our society in a hard way, it has also created momentum for policy-makers to act and move away from the current overpacked culture and towards more conscious production and consumption.”

The coronavirus pandemic has seen plans across the UK for a single-use drinks-bottle DRS pushed back – the UK Government’s plans have slipped to at least 2024, and the Scottish Government earlier this year delayed the implementation of its scheme from April 2021 to July 2022.