Reusable packaging in takeaway services is more burdensome on the environment than single-use paper packaging finds new Meta-Study

Ramboll has been appointed by the European Paper Packaging Alliance as technical consultant to conduct a meta-study assessment aiming at identifying, describing, and assessing the additional environmental implications of “take-away services” in Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) regarding single-use and multiple-use food containers. 

The new meta-study examined 26 science-based studies on the environmental implications of the use of single-use and multiple-use food containers in take-away services. Looking at the full life cycle of the packaging materials, the study found that obligatory “reusable packaging in takeaway services would be more burdensome on the environment than single-use paper packaging”. 

The reason for this is that reusable packaging is affected not only by the same impacts as for single-use packaging but also by another series of impacts related to “phases that are exclusive” of reusable packaging. 

The study took into consideration a number of elements when comparing the environmental impacts of single-use paper packaging and reusable packaging, including the actual number of uses, the return rate, the means of transport, the type of preliminary washing at home and professional washing, the additional packaging required for takeaway services and the potential for improper disposal of single-use and multiple-use items when delivered. 

According to EPPA, the results showed that the switch to reusable packaging for take-away services affects climate change and water use the most.  

Why is the study important 

As the European Commission prepares to propose a revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive with potentially far-reaching implications, the meta-analysis shows that reuse systems impose exclusive additional burdens to the environment when compared to single-use, related to additional washing, take-back transportation and breakage / unit loss associated with takeaway. 

Single-use containers are far more practical for food delivery services and their customers, improving hygiene and convenience, and simply perform better on key environmental metrics. 

We call on the European Commission to take this evidence into account in the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive revision. 

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