As heatwaves wreak havoc for another summer across Europe, the European Commission is pushing ahead with its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the bloc by 55% by 2030.
This ambition is to be welcomed, although it will undoubtedly have a huge impact on all European citizens and businesses.
The plans for Europe’s Green Deal are already extremely complex and the Commission is now sharing an ever-growing number of proposals and asking for feedback from relevant parties. This is also to be welcomed, because it is only through effective consultation and rigorous impact assessments that we can ensure that the policy is fit for purpose.
One of these issues is the forthcoming revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which aims to introduce stricter rules on what packaging should be allowed on the market and targets for recycling and reuse to reduce waste. does.
It is particularly important that the EU, when reviewing packaging rules, takes into account the importance of promoting solutions that have the most efficient and positive impact on the environment throughout the product lifecycle. The best overall environmental outcome, with emissions reductions in focus, should be the guiding principle.
The best for the environment is sometimes unthinkable. This is the case for paper-based packaging, for which the Commission is considering setting binding reusable packaging targets and banning a variety of renewable and reusable single-use packaging.
Many people may intuitively feel that from a sustainability perspective, single-use is bad and multiple-use is good. However, when single-use products are made from renewable, sustainably sourced, and largely recycled cardboard, and reusable products are made from non-renewable, resource-intensive, rigid plastics, we can already guess that the truth might be a little different.
In fact, this is what science shows. Rambol, an independent and leading Danish company, recently carried out a study – on behalf of the European Paper Packaging Alliance – with clear results. Many restaurants don’t rely heavily on on-site single-use products, but a large majority do for delivery services. The conclusion could not be clearer: reusable packaging, which is mandatory in take-away service, will have a greater impact on the environment than disposable paper packaging.
This study is a meta-analysis that reviewed 26 studies and concluded that the additional and specific reuse burdens associated with wear and tear/unit losses associated with additional laundering, return transport, and takeout enabled reusable materials. This has made the service much less durable. Nor does this take into account the increased costs and inefficiencies (and very high levels of non-collection/reuse) associated with attempting to implement large-scale reusable systems across distribution platforms that often serve hundreds of individual restaurants in the city or community.
In addition, Ramboll’s latest Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) results speak for single-use paper packaging in fast-food restaurants. This analysis shows that reusable tableware (cups, plates, etc.) generates almost three times more CO2-equivalent emissions and uses 3.4 times more fresh water than paper-based single-use systems. In fact, replacing single-use packaging with reusable crockery in fast-food restaurants across Europe results in a million extra petrol cars per year in terms of CO2 emissions, and a city of 750,000 people needs fresh water. would equal consumption. At a time when Europe needs to strengthen the resilience of its ecosystems and use water more efficiently, as the LCA study has made clear, committing to reusability will only increase water use and accelerate water tension.
Paper therefore represents a real solution to reduce the environmental footprint of the packaging industry: it is made from 100% renewable materials, is recyclable and is transformed into new products in factories across Europe. In fact, it has the highest recycling rate (82%) of any packaging material. The paper packaging industry is aiming to increase this rate to 90% by 2030 – a commitment that well exceeds the 85% target set by the European Union. In some countries, such as Italy, the EU Commission’s target for 2030 has already been met, and many other member states are on track to reach this target before 2030.
Putting recycling and LCA at the heart of a circular economy is a prerequisite. This is not only the position of the food industry or the paper packaging industry, but also of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which stressed that the European Commission should focus on the whole life cycle of products. Packaging in the recently published recommendations. The EESC notes that packaging made from natural fibers and other natural materials can effectively reduce development through resource consumption. It is also noted that renewable materials are durable, reusable and biodegradable. Paper packaging meets all of these criteria.
As we face increasing environmental degradation and climate instability, the European Commission must act quickly and decisively, but always based on the best scientific evidence. Disposable paper packaging is more environmentally friendly than reusable alternatives. Let’s start implementing science-based policies that achieve the best environmental outcomes for the planet and people.
Putting Science at the Center of the Circular Economy first appeared on Politico.