Life Cycle Assessment Study single use vs. multiple use

Ramboll’s new European Study challenges common perception that reusable tableware has lower environmental impacts.

A study released by the European Paper Packaging Association (EPPA) reveals that single-use paper-based food and drink packaging used in European quick service restaurants is better for the environment than reusable tableware.

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been carried by Ramboll, the independent Danish consultants to the European Commission, and certified by TUV.

The study used current primary data from the paper, packaging and foodservice industries to compare the environmental performance over a year of typical disposable and reusable food and drink containers used in a quick-service restaurant for in-store consumption.

The Ramboll Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) found that, assuming realistic usage over a year, the energy consumption involved in the use phase of reusable plastic and traditional crockery, during in-store or out-sourced washing and drying, outweighed the environmental impact of single-use paper dishes. The baseline report reveals that reusable tableware generated 177% more CO2-e emissions than the paper- based single-use system, consumed 267% more freshwater, produced 132% more fine particulates matter, increased fossil depletion by 238% and terrestrial acidification by 72%

“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. This means that single-use is better for the climate and does not aggravate the problems of water stress, now a growing issue in many European countries” said Mr. Antonio D’Amato, President of EPPA.

Hans van Schaik, Managing Director of EPPA, said: “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, fine particulate matter formation and terrestrial acidification in the Europe, compared to single-use tableware solutions.”

100 per cent of existing single-use paper tableware manufactured by EPPA members and used in Europe are sourced from sustainably managed forests. Paper and board is the most recycled packaging material in Europe with a rate of around 86% (Eurostat 2017).

The European Commission’s flagship Green Deal policy aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and insists on Life Cycle Assessments of products demonstrating their environmental performance before adopting a preferred direction, at a time when key legislation around packaging and packaging waste, and single use is being discussed (i.e. the SUPD Guidelines are expected to be released in the upcoming weeks)

This LCA meets ISO standards and has been independently assessed by Germany’s TÜV (Technischer Überwachungsverein). While a number of LCA studies have been carried out over time on multiple-use products, the Ramboll’s LCA relies on primary data from both public authorities and the private sector – as opposed to secondary data from outdated databases. The Ramboll’s LCA is also unique in its scope (EU 27 + 1).

TUV Agency, issuing the certificate of validity concerning the critical review, states that “All significant parameters are available and representative and have been systematically derived and duly assessed. All type of approvals have been checked. The assessments and the underlying data collection and calculation procedures are transparent and traceable”.

Mr Eric Le Lay, Deputy President of EPPA, continued, “Our study is based on updated primary data. Despite usual misconceptions due to lack of science-based evidence and system approach, it shows that reusables can carry significant environmental costs which are often forgotten, and that single-use food packaging is preferable for the environment, public health, and the achievement of EU Green Deal goals”.


  1. Of course the throw away paper dishes score better than the multi-use dishes because the study is paid by the paper industry. LCA studies are NOT the instrument to claim that a product is better than the one of the competitor, because the results can be steered. In the study is quoted ‘This LCA meets ISO standards.’ The ISO standards 14040 and 14044 prescribe the steps to be made in an LCA study, but does not include the assumptions, the system boundaries, the weighting factors etc.
    According to these assumptions the results can be steered in the direction of the organization that ordered the study. So of course the result of the study of Ramboll is in the advantage of paper.
    For example, transport of the single use and the secondary packaging of the single use paper dishes is NOT taken into account. Only the intermediate transport from paper producers to converters is part of the calculations. What is the environmental impact (CO2 Fine Particulate Matter Formation emissions and Fine Particulate Matter Formation), of the transport from the converters to the QSR? That will be tremendous.
    Also to turn the results in advantage for paper the reforestation is taken into account for calculating the impact on climate change. Many years pass when the small trees take as much CO2 as the trees that are cut to produce paper… The slow growing speed of trees will be in conflict with the increasing demand for paper. Even with the FSC certification, it is not the solution to use paper for throw away dishes, packaging etc.
    In the study the best case scenario for paper is taken, compared with worst case scenario for multiple use products f.e. ‘Paper Single-Use dishes are sourced and manufactured in Europe, opposite to plastic, ceramic or glass dishes that are sourced and/or manufacture out of Europe, mostly in Asia and China.’
    Also the worst case scenario of the washing process of the multi-use dishes is taken into account, in which a lot of energy is used for the extra dryer, while this is not always necessary.

    It is claimed ‘Single-Use dishes and food packaging are a perfect fit for a circular economy because of their complete and effective recyclability’. That is the theory. All the throw away dishes in paper (+PE layer) are dirty after use, these are polluted with food leftovers. In Flanders PE coated used food containers are NOT collected to be recycled for they disturb the recycling process. A wash operation will be required to recycle the used dirty dishes, what about the water use then ???
    For the sensitivity analysis estimations are made how many times the dishes out of different materials ca be used : dishes made from ceramic (500 or 250 reuses), glass (500 or 250 reuses), stainless steel (1000 reuses). Especially for steel this is an underestimation. Steel dishes are very robust and can be used many years

    Conclusion: the results of the study should not be taken as a guide in the transition to the circular economy for the scenario an estimations is in advantage for throw away paper dishes.

  2. […] rate of 85.6% making it a strong contributor to the circular economy. As EPPA explains, the new study “shows that reusables can carry significant environmental costs which are often forgotten, and […]


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