Do EU restrictions on single-use plastics really reduce emissions? 

Since the EU’s draft packaging and packaging waste regulation (PPWR) was announced, there has been a battle of opinions over the impact the targets would have. The regulations aim to convert all packaging to recyclable or reusable options by 2030, along with targets of 20% for takeaway drinks to be reusable and 10% for takeaway foods. 

According to a study published earlier this week by the consultancy firm Eunomia, commissioned by Zero Waste Europe, Reloop, and TOMRA, reusable packaging could produce less emissions, providing that the collection and return systems are run properly. 

However, there are still mixed views, with the rules being strongly supported by both environmental groups and left-wing parties in the European Parliament. At the same time, right-wing groups and some organisations in the food and drink industry are still sceptical. 

The research focused on the emissions of reusable takeaway packaging when the targets are being used in 2020, providing that there is a centralised system and EU countries are using eco-friendly energy and electric transport options. 

One of the findings of the study was that using reusable bowls, cups, and takeaway boxes would mean lower emissions than single-use options. Other items, like pizza boxes and sushi containers, would be less effective unless more innovative systems were introduced. 

It found that if 92% of bowls were reused at least 13 times, the emissions would be lower. For takeaway boxes, 97% would need to be returned and reused 30 times to make a difference. 

Eunomia Research & Consulting said, “The extent to which carbon benefits could be realised differs by each container type, with the strongest case for reusable cups. There is still work to do for larger and heavier containers, such as pizza boxes, which, as things stand, will be difficult to justify for reuse and will require more innovations in design to find their place.”

The company added that the shift to reusable packaging cannot happen “without thinking beyond simply swapping one packaging type for another” and the system “must be designed and implemented well”.

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