New research has found the European Union’s (EU) proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which includes strict reusable packaging targets by 2030, could have unintended consequences. The study, which analysed data from various sources, found that reusable solutions could result in higher carbon dioxide emissions and increased costs for consumers.

The research compared the environmental impacts, economic effects, and societal implications of paper-based packaging currently used in food takeaway and e-commerce in Belgium and Germany with those of reusable plastic packaging if the PPWR reuse targets were applied.

The researchers concluded the use of reusable plastic packaging could result in up to 160% more carbon dioxide emissions for food takeaway and up to 40% more for e-commerce and explained this is as per the findings of a McKinsey article, which was one of the sources of the research.

Furthermore, the high operating costs associated with reusable packaging would likely result in higher costs for consumers, the researchers said. Transport would be the primary driver for both carbon dioxide emissions and costs, as reusable packaging needs to be transported back to the producer after delivery or purchase.

A more sustainable and cost-effective option

The research suggests that recycling paper and board packaging is a more sustainable and cost-effective option.

The report’s assumptions for reusable plastic packaging represent a best-case scenario, assuming that plastic recycling will experience a rapid development in the future and that plastic packaging will be reused more times than is currently the case.

Jori Ringman, director general of Cepi, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, suggested that reuse and recycling could be complementary solutions to achieving higher circularity. He said that a decision to go for one solution or the other should be based on technical feasibility, economic viability, and environmental protection, and should not be decided by an EU-wide blanket decision as proposed by the European Commission.

The study concludes that sweeping reusable packaging targets do not comply with an approach based on proof of environmental benefit.

The researchers published a short explainer along with the full report.