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New life cycle analysis shows that recyclable, paper-based packaging used in the quick service food delivery and takeaway sector offers significant environmental benefits

New Life Cycle Analysis (Life Cycle Assessment) compares single-use and reusable tableware packaging for takeaway in quick-service restaurants.

A full life cycle assessment (LCA), commissioned by the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), compared the overall environmental effects of takeaway single-use and multiple-use packaging in an average quick-service restaurant (QSR) for 365 days in Europe. Takeaway services include takeaway, delivery, drive and click and collect.

The full LCA report is ISO 14040/44 compliant and has been subject to an external third-party panel composed of three renowned LCA experts and academics from Sweden, Italy and Germany respectively.

Reviewers’ Opinion

The reviewers find the study’s level of quality, detail and transparency to be appropriate considering the goal and scope. In particular, they appreciate the specific data gathering implemented by the authors of the study. Subsequently, the reviewers consider the results and conclusions to be a sound and fair reflection of the potential comparative environmental impacts of the studied systems representing the use of single use and multiple use tableware for takeaway services in Quick Service Restaurants. The detailed sensitivity analysis provides transparency of the uncertainties and confidence in the overall robustness of the results achieved and conclusions drawn.

In conclusion, it is the opinion of the review panel that the report provides useful and realistic information for stakeholders interested in this topic.

Our Study Analysis

Whereas previous LCA studies analysed only the environmental impact of products, this study adopted a more holistic approach based on the entire working system of the restaurants. Robust, reliable and up-to-date primary data related to the relevant parameters was used for the purpose of the study, including type of washing and types of dishwashers, reuse rates, return rates, means of transport and distances covered, and different end-of-life hypothesis.

Nine sensitivity analyses were conducted to test the decisive assumptions of the study. Different return rate, number of reuses or washing scenarios were analysed confirming a clear advantage for single-use paper-based packaging.

Our Conslusions

EPPA’s analysis of the new LCA challenges the common perception that reusable packaging is the better solution for the environment since the study shows that single use paper-based packaging provides a better environmental outcome than reusable packaging.

Environmental impact categories including freshwater consumption, CO2-equivalent emissions, ozone depletion, fossil resource use or minerals and metals resource use were tested as part of the study. For all 12 impact categories analysed, single-use was found to present significant environmental advantages compared to multiple-use.

Overall, multiple-use packaging was found to:

  • Generate almost double (91%) additional CO2-equivalent emissions
  • Consume more than two thirds (64%) additional freshwater
  • Produce more than double (129%) additional fine particulate matter
  • Increase fossil depletion by 85%
  • Increase metal depletion by 433%

The transport back from the restaurants as well as the washing and drying of the containers, were the most important hotspots of environmental pollution for multiple-use and the reason for their larger environmental impact. Due to its inherent nature, single-use paper-based packaging does not require transport back to the restaurants nor additional washing. It can be easily recycled and turned into high quality secondary-products.

Why This Study is Important

As the European Commission looks to review the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, it is imperative only the most sustainable, economically-sound and safe solutions be promoted.

Looking at the new study, we can easily conclude that for takeaway services, single-use paper-based packaging is always the better solution compared to multiple-use packaging. And while this study focused on quick-service restaurants, it can easily be generalised to other types of restaurants that offer takeaway services. QSRs operate under a standardised system and provide a referential for best-in-class dishwashers in the hotel-restaurant-café sector. As such, the switch to multiple-use packaging in other types of restaurants should deliver even worse results due to the lowest efficiency of the dishwashers.

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