Busting some myths related to environmental impact of reusable takeaway packaging
Recently, there has been a lively discussion regarding the EU Commission's initiative, which aims to reduce the waste caused by single-use packaging throughout the EU. According to research, every European produces an average of almost 180 kilos of packaging waste per year (source: Representation of the European Commission in Finland).
Read the article here: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_7155
We want to throw our own "spoon into the soup" and bring some background information to the few assumptions and busting some myths that have been mentioned in the public discussion.
1. Logistics, washing and usage of energy
Regarding the logistics, washing and energy use of reusable packaging, i.e. durable containers, a couple of assumptions have been made that seem exaggerated:
- The fact that people would drive to their errands just to return the reusable packaging, instead of doing this as part of other daily transactions.
- As well as the assumption of centralized washing, which would require moving dishes from one place to another. For example, we at Kamupak use a localized washing model (washing takes place in restaurants), which reduces or eliminates the effects of logistics.
In addition, energy consumption in restaurants should be evaluated through marginal consumption. Restaurants wash their dishes anyway and heat the washing water for this, so the direct energy consumption resulting from one wash of the dish rack is actually relevant.
Alternatively, in a centralized washing model, the green energy can be used, when available. It is difficult to see that a company operatin on such an ideological principle would consider using fossil energy in its washing operations. Considering that the effects of energy use are a significant part of the environmental effects of the washing operator and the washing of packaging.
2. Return rate and speed of circulation
The third incorrect assumption that often appeared in discussions is related to the return rate and circulation speed of reusable packaging. In reality, the return rates are much higher than what the figures presented in the public discussion.
90% of Kamupak's reusable containers return to reuse within 5 days
Based on the data taken from Kamupak's back-end system, up to 90% of reusable takeaway dishes have been returned to circulation throughout history, and on average the dishes are returned to circulation in five days
3. The number of uses of reusable takeaway containers
The fourth assumption is related to the number of uses of reusable packaging. The number of uses is clearly a more difficult topic, because there is no comprehensive data on it yet, mainly indicative indications and what is available from producers, but even based on what is available, the number of uses is significantly above the 20 cycles presented in the public discussion.
Producers estimate the durability of reusable containers at hundreds of reuses, Kamupak estimates the cycles at around a one hundred when the mechanical wear of the packaging is taken into account during its life cycle.
The hygiene risks related to the washing of durable dishes have been noted in the guidelines for restaurants and taken into account as part of the restaurant's washing process, where restaurants are responsible for the washing and hygiene of their dishes anyway.
The author is Karri Lehtonen, one of the founders of Kamupak and works at Kamupak as a circular economy expert and does life cycle analysis of products.