Is single-use packaging saving the planet?

Is single-use packaging saving the planet?

According to a recently published life-cycle-assessment (LCA) study, paper-based single-use products provide significant key environmental advantages when compared to reusable tableware for in-store dining in quick service restaurants (QSR).

We’ve been conditioned to believe that anything that is only used once and then discarded is bad for the environment. But it would seem that it’s very different for single-use paper-based products, as indicated by a recent study released by the European Paper Packaging Association (EPPA). It was conducted by Ramboll, a leading global engineering, design and consultancy company, and certified by TÜV, one of the world’s leading testing service providers.

The results, obtained from primary data from the paper, packaging and food-service industries over a year of typical disposable and reusable food and drink containers, showed that:

• In regard to the impact on climate change, the single-use system shows significant benefits. In fact, in the baseline scenario, the polypropylene-based multi-use system was responsible for generating 2,7 times more COemissions than the paper-based single-use system. The single main contributor to climate change, in the multi-use baseline scenario, is the electricity demand of the washing process.

• There are also significant environmental benefits of the single-use system for freshwater consumption. The multi-use system used 3,6 times the amount of freshwater in the baseline scenario.

“While our minds and hearts are at the moment very much focused on managing the Covid-19 crisis and economic recovery, we must not lose sight of our long-term sustainability ambitions,” says Charles Héaulmé, president and CEO of Huhtamaki – a global food packaging specialist headquartered in Espoo, Finland. And paper-based products can definitely form part of these ambitions.

“The main issues with reusables is the energy and water they consume during washing and drying to ensure they are hygienic and safe for reuse by customers, and this is also confirmed when the most efficient dishwashing technologies are applied,” says Antonio D’Amato, president of EPPA. “This means that single-use is better for the climate and does not aggravate the problems of water stress.”

Hans van Schaik, managing director of EPPA, adds: “Ramboll’s research shows that favouring reusable dishes in quick-service restaurants would lead to significant detrimental impacts on climate change, freshwater consumption, fossil depletion and fine particulate matter formation, compared to single-use tableware solutions.”

Héaulmé says: “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 food-service industry. 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.”

Thomasine Kamerling, executive vice president of sustainability and communications at Huhtamaki, adds: “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 for fact-based understanding about 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.”

Héaulmé says: “We recognise that there are still gaps in the circularity of packaging that need to be addressed. At Huhtamaki, we continue to work proactively on developing sustainable packaging solutions in line with our 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. We must also find ways to address antisocial littering, potentially via incentivisation mechanisms, to support positive consumer behaviour.”

Eric Le Lay, deputy president of EPPA, sums it up:
“Despite the usual misconceptions, due to the lack of science-based evidence, [research shows that] reusables can carry significant environmental costs which are often forgotten and that single-use food packaging is preferable for the environment and public health.”
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.

Fruit farmer lights up Ceres Valley

It is no secret that South Africa’s farmers face many challenges on a daily basis. In the Ceres Valley, known for being the country’s fruit bowl, electricity shortages are an ongoing problem.

Realising that the electricity shortages were not going to fix themselves, Ian Versfeld decided to step in and install a solar plant on his property. Once the Vadersgawe farm’s power requirements had been established, he opted to commission a system that would produce far more than that amount. This way, working closely with the Witzenburg municipality, the excess electricity would be fed back into the grid for use elsewhere.

The system, which can produce up to 376 882 kWh per year, was built on underutilised ground not suitable for fruit development.
“Given our sunny climate and open space, I realised that solar was an obvious solution,” says Versfeld. “Using the solar plant to produce our electricity, I’m experiencing a much more stable internal network. The Solar Edge technology makes monitoring and fault finding easy.”

“This project is an excellent example of a grid tied system that will benefit a whole area,” says David Masureik, from New Southern Energy, the company that designed and installed the solar farm. “Versfeld was wise to choose the best technology available to maximise the production of the system throughout its lifetime.”

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