Reusable takeaway packaging viable with central system of reuse

Reusable takeaway packaging could present a compelling climate case over single-use alternatives if return and washing systems are properly implemented and optimised, according to a new study on reuse released by Zero Waste Europe, Reloop, and TOMRA today (5 September).

Reusable takeaway packaging coffee cupThe report ‘Assessing Climate Impact: Reusable systems vs. Single-Use Takeaway Packaging’ envisions reusable packaging reaching a steady state in 2030 whereby it can be collected, washed, and redistributed through a centralised system.

The study looked at the GHG emissions associated with a wide range of common takeaway packaging, including cups, burger boxes, bowls, pizza boxes, and sushi containers, comparing single-use to reusable packaging in an optimised reuse system.

The research found that the adoption of reusable containers within a well-designed reuse system has the potential to reduce GHG emissions for most packaging options. The only exception to this was pizza boxes which will likely need further innovations in design to fully unlock the benefits of reuse. For example, even a 20 per cent reduction in the weight of a reusable pizza box – equivalent to 85 grams – could tip the scales in favour of reuse.

The study – produced by Eunomia Research and Consulting – also examined each container’s breakeven point at which reuse matches the carbon footprint of single-use, for greenhouse gas emissions within a robust return system. It found that returning a bowl thirteen times or a coffee cup just six times proved sufficient to break even, with any further returns becoming a net positive in terms of carbon emissions avoided.

Building upon the recent evaluation of life cycle assessments conducted by Zero Waste Europe and Reloop, the study urges policymakers to fight for a cleaner 2030, particularly as discussions commence shortly on the forthcoming reuse targets within the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations (PPWR).

Effective implementation of reusable takeaway packaging systems

ZWE says that the outcomes of this study hold great promise for guiding the implementation of effective reusable systems, emphasising the potential for emissions reduction and the significance of meticulous system design. The researchers call for large-scale trials to further validate and refine these findings.

Aline Maigret, Head of Policy at Zero Waste Europe, said: “Focusing on the potential for reducing GHG emissions, this study reiterates the relevance of switching from single-use packaging to reusable ones. As institutional negotiators are gearing up for the negotiations of the packaging rules in the EU, we count on them to acknowledge this potential by mandating ambitious reuse targets.”

Clarissa Morawski of Reloop added: “Unlocking the potential of smart reuse lies in crafting systems that harness our collective design experience, optimising processes from design to deposit return, embracing reverse logistics, and perfecting the art of washing. As we pave the way for the business of the future, let's ensure policies are in place to nurture and champion this transformative journey towards sustainability and innovation.”

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