In an effort to reduce plastic waste in the restaurant industry, specifically single-use takeout containers, researchers at the University of Michigan compared the lifetime environmental impact of disposable and reusable food containers.
Their findings support the idea that the number of times a reusable takeout container is used is an important factor influencing its sustainability performance.
Depending on which single-use container you replace, the reusable alternative (which uses more energy initially and produces more greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change) will last between 4 and 13 uses. A study found that it could be on par with disposable containers.
“Reducing the amount of single-use plastic in the restaurant industry by implementing reusable takeout container systems has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy, water and costs. A study found that reusable containers outperformed single-use containers across all impact categories,” said study author, director of the school’s Center for Sustainable Systems for the Environment and Sustainability. Greg Keoleian says.
The study, published online January 5 in Resources, Conservation & Recycling, finds that global plastic production has accelerated dramatically over the past few decades, leading to a sharp rise in plastic waste. is reporting.
The United States alone generated more than 90 times more plastic municipal solid waste in 2018 than it did in 1960.
In addition to the number and type of materials reusable containers are reused, UM’s research also found that customer behavior is a key factor in sustainability performance.
“If 5% of our customers drive their used containers just to return them, a reusable system will have more lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than a single-use system. ” Sustainable Systems Research Assistant.
“We also looked at water usage in home cleaning of containers,” says Hitt. “Excessive washing can unbalance the primary energy impact of reusable containers.”
According to this research, education is key to combating these potential downsides by encouraging best practices for customers. Information labels on containers, restaurant signage, employee interactions with customers, and online information are some of the educational tools the study recommends.
Convenience also plays an important role. A city-wide system of using a common container for multiple restaurants is advantageous as it allows customers to return containers to different locations, reducing the likelihood of customers traveling just to return containers. It may prove to be
As a basis for the model, the researchers studied a returnable takeout container pilot program launched by the Ann Arbor nonprofit Live Zero Waste. The program, Ann Arbor Reduce, Reuse, Return, is currently in its second pilot phase and has been implemented in conjunction with his A2ZERO Carbon Neutral Plan for the City of Ann Arbor.
The research, supported by the Morgan Stanley Plastics Waste Reduction Research and Fellowship Award, shows that reusable container systems as part of a circular economy strategy can help save time if customers are effectively educated to adopt them. It concludes that over time it can bring significant benefits. sustainable action.
In addition to Hitt and Keoleian, Jacob Douglas, a research assistant at the Center for Sustainable Systems, was a co-author of the journal article.