Paper-based single-use tableware more sustainable than reusable, says report

Friday, 12 March, 2021

Paper-based single-use tableware more sustainable than reusable, says report

A study investigating the environmental impacts of single- and multi-use packaging used at quick-service restaurants has found that paper-based single-use products provide significant environmental advantages compared with reusable options.

Conducted by global engineering, design and consultancy company Ramboll, and commissioned by the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), the life cycle assessment (LCA) study highlights the merits of paper-based single-use products as state governments and private industry continue to explore alternatives to single-use plastics and minimise carbon emissions.

The study found that significant advantages in paper-based single-use products were primarily driven by the carbon emissions related to the amount of energy required to wash the tableware, as well as the amount of fresh water used in the washing process in a multi-use system. The full environmental impact was scientifically measured for both applications across multiple criteria and scenarios.

In the study, the polypropylene-based multi-use system generated 2.7 times more CO2-e emissions than the paper-based single-use system. The single main contributor to climate change impact in the multi-use baseline scenario is the electricity demand of the washing process. Overall, the use phase accounts for 83% of the total aggregated impact.

Freshwater consumption reveals a significant environmental benefit using the single-use system, with the multi-use system using 3.6 times the amount of fresh water in the baseline scenario.

“The environmental impact of energy and water required for washing in a multi-use system demonstrates that reusable packaging is not the solution for the foodservice industry,” said Charles Héaulmé, President and CEO of Huhtamaki, a global provider of sustainable packaging solutions. “Particularly from a climate change perspective, paper-based single-use packaging results in a lower environmental impact. Ramboll’s LCA provides scientific evidence which policymakers must welcome as they aim to develop regulation that is good for the planet and has no unintended consequences.”

Huhtamaki Executive Vice President of Sustainability and Communications Thomasine Kamerling added, “Climate impact and freshwater consumption are considered the two most critical environmental impact categories today. Due to the urgency of mitigating climate change, we believe there is a need to have a fact-based understanding on which activities contribute to climate impact and how they can be minimised effectively and immediately. Water stress is also an issue of growing global importance, with an increasing number of geographies facing freshwater supply issues today.

“Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that policy decisions adopted today take into account both carbon emissions and freshwater consumption, and that all industries and sectors review how they can mitigate their impact. For example, at Huhtamaki we are actively working to minimise our carbon footprint, setting a Science Based Target, and we are currently assessing water management plans across all our operations.”

Recognising that gaps in the recyclability of packaging remain, Héaulmé asserted that Huhtamaki is working proactively to develop sustainable packaging solutions in line with its 2030 Strategy.

“We believe that investments in waste management infrastructure are needed to further increase the recycling rates of paper-based packaging, which will further reduce their climate impact,” he said.

In addition to climate impact and freshwater consumption, the LCA study measured environmental impact in the following categories: fossil depletion, particle pollution, terrestrial acidification, freshwater eutrophication, ionising radiation, metal depletion and stratospheric ozone depletion. Further categories where single-use packaging provided environmental advantages compared to a multi-use system were fossil depletion, particle pollution and terrestrial acidification.

A summary of the LCA is available here.

Image credit: © Africa

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