The Sciences, Economics, and Life Cycle Assessments For Reusable Containers in Foodservice

  • $24 billion spent yearly by restaurants and foodservice businesses on disposables,
  • Nearly 1 trillion pieces or 9 million tons of disposables items are used by US restaurants and foodservice businesses (21% for on-site dining and 79% for take-out and delivery),
  • $6 billion spent by businesses and city governments on solid waste management costs attributable to disposable food packaging,
  • Roughly 20 billion pieces of litter are from disposable food-service packaging.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) science has indicated that “reuses win every time” and only a paradigm shift to a reuse culture will create a sustainable solution within the food industry:

  • Single-uses (of any material) waste natural resources and energy, and create unnecessary harm to the environment.
  • Single-use bio-based plastics or compostable packaging are not sustainable solutions based on in-depth studies of their environmental impacts and limitations of current composting practice.
  • Although some single-use materials are technically recyclable, many throw-away products in the foodservice industry are often too dirty to be recycled.
  • Sorting of the recycled content is a costly issue and recycling is only a good thing when products can be made from the same materials.
  • Reusable is the answer, LCA reveal that environmental break-even point (CO2 footprint) is achieved at a very low number of cycles, some only required 2 reuses. Likewise reusable also consumes considerable less water over its lifecycle.

To solve the problem, stop “single-use throw-away” and shift to “reuse, reduce and recycle”, and this can be done with the MUST reusable containers program.

The evidences across a variety of metrics show that a reusable containers program will bring many far-reaching benefits to a food establishment and its local community. [6]

  • Reuse significantly saves businesses foodservice packaging and waste management costs,
  • Reuse increases customer and operator satisfaction,
  • Reuse builds brand loyalty and is a prerequisite by environmentally responsible customers,
  • Reuse can offer valuable customer behaviour data and opportunity to improve customer services,
  • Reuse saves litters cleanup cost, and exemplifies business responsibility within the local communities,
  • Dishwashing and labour costs for reusables are minimal or non-existent.

Documented studies at US restaurants [2] show that the higher upfront cost of reusable breaks even after just a few uses and then annually will save a small business and its community:

  • from US$3,000 to US$ 22,000 on food packaging cost, [1,6]
  • on waste management cost it eliminates 1300 to 2200 lbs of waste (110,000 to 225,000 disposable items)
  • on litter cleanup cost, since 8 out of 10 plastic pollution pieces is from food packaging
The available reuse options for the foodservice industry are:
  1. Encourage customers to Bring Your Own (BYO) reusable.
  2. The well proven government run deposit refund systems (DRS) mainly for the reuse of standard containers (mostly beer and beverage bottle).[9]
  3. Service companies [13] that collect a fee to provide and manage reusable for restaurant use. They pocket all the cost saving from reusable running their own deposit-refund schemes.
  4. Restaurants offer their own reusable for a deposit, a loyalty bonus or discount. This is where the MUST deposit-refund program will help business implementing their own reusable containers.
The new reuse economy is emerging all around the globe [7], with call for enacting more policies, investing in solutions, and supporting businesses that develop and practice sustainable solutions.  Achievable solutions[11]  are summarized on the attached chart.  MUST deposit-refund program, can be deployed based on your needs, to bring you all the cost saving and success in the new economy.
Achievable solutions

A publication from UN Environment’s illustrates an in-depth Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that gives us a correct understanding of the full and true impact of a selected food packaging material on the environment; for example, glass is worst than PS plastic due to the higher energy consumption in production and the heavier weight that leaves a bigger footprint during shipping and delivery [3].  For long-term sustainability, we rely on this type of analysis to identify the best materials for the MUST reusable containers programs.

As an example, the economic and environmental benefits in reusing a BPA-free polypropylene container was proven to be very significant [12]  Ecolab test of a BPA-free polypropylene [12] reusable container shows:

  • After 2 to10 uses it becomes environmentally favourable to any single-use alternatives including compostable paper products[2, 12],
  • After 500 uses it eliminates that many single-use items to reduce up to 93.2% of GHG emissions and 71.7% water consumption,
  • It can last up to 1000 washes when each reusable container saves us a total of 70 kg of CO2

The cost saving over the life of the above reusable container is significant.  In fact, by charging a per-use fee for reusable equal to the current cost of single-use, third party companies [13] generate enough revenues from the reusable economy to supply and manage reusable containers for the restaurant industry.

1) “How to Reduce Single-use Plastics in the Food Sector” a document from C40 Cities Organisation

2) “Reuse Wins” a document from Upstream organisation

3) “Single-use plastic take-away food packaging and its alternatives” a document from UN Environment 

4) “Discover The Reuse Revolution

5) “Set Targets for advancing towards zero waste” from C40 Cities Organisation

6)  “Reuse vs. Single-Use Economics”  a document from Upstream organisation

7) The new reuse economy, what are going on in the globe?

8) The current deposit-refund-system

9) Handling fees in current deposit refund systems

10) “Foodservice single-use products Industry Study #3774” An industry study by Freedonia, Feb 2020

11) “The dirty Truth about Disposable Foodware” A document by The Overbrook Foundation, Feb 2020

12) “Impact of reusable container from a service company”, Re:Dish

13) “Lists of service companies: Third party operators providing reusable food packaging for take-out and delivery at your favourite restaurants”

14) “Waste Characterization Study for New York city”  2017. 

15) “Waste Composition Study in Vancouver”  2020.

16) “Vancouver’s zero-waste-target by 2040

17) “Moving on from single-use plastics: How Europe is doing? “  

18) “UN legal limits on single use plastics and microplastics” a global review 2018.

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