Single-use or reusable? A European LCA challenges common perception that reusable tableware has lower environmental impacts: it does not!

A new European study carried out by the international firm Ramboll and certified by TÜV (ISO 14040 and 14044 standards) * challenges the common perception that reusable tableware has lower environmental impacts than single-use paper-based packaging.

Indeed, this Life Cycle Analysis shows that single-use paper-based packaging used in Quick Service Restaurants is the best environmental choice .


* (LCA carried out for EPPA – European Paper Packaging Alliance – published January 12, 2021)

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.


This LCA exhaustively assesses two “systems” – single use and multiple use – with all their impacts, according to multiple criteria and scenarios.

24 different types of articles used in QSR are studied, according to the average need of a restaurant in Europe for in-store consumption.

Current paper-based single-use packaging is compared with a reusable plastic tableware alternative (polypropylene – PP), or with traditional dishes (ceramic, glass, metal and plastic). Different options are studied for washing, which can be carried out on site or outside of the restaurant.

Paper-based packaging has very significantly lower impacts for 5 criteria out of the 9 studied!

The results of reusable dishes are strongly impacted by water consumption and the amount of energy required to wash and dry the products.


The sensitivity analysis shows that the environmental benefits are significant for single-use paper packaging in all the scenarios considered.

Renewable and recyclable, safe and perfectly suited to the needs and constraints of QSR, paper-based packaging remains the solution with the best environmental impact for this mode of consumption.

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