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

EPPA has asked the independent environment expert Ramboll to conduct a meta-study assessment aiming at identifying, describing, and assessing the environmental implications of “take-away services ” in Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) regarding single-use and multiple-use food containers.

The May 2022 meta-study examined 26 science-based studies assessing 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 meta-analysis found that obligatory “reusable packaging in takeaway services would be more burdensome for 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. These include transport back to the QSR, decrease in the number of reuses due to non-returned products and preliminary washing at home.

The meta-analysis concluded that the main hotspots when comparing the environmental impacts of single-use paper packaging and reusable packaging, are 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 related to theft and improper disposal.

Why is the Study Important?

As the European Commission is revising the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive with potentially far-reaching implications, the meta-analysis shows that reuse systems impose excessive additional burdens to the environment when compared to single-use, related to additional washing, take-back transportation and breakage or 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, as well as economic ones.

EPPA calls on policymakers to take this evidence into account in the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive revision.