Influential studies on reusable take-away packaging found to be biased in favour of single-use


10 Aug 2023

Unveiling the Complexities Exploring LCAs of Reusable Packaging in the Take-Away Sector Eunomia Reloop Zero Waste Europe

Brussels, 10 August 2023 – Heavily cited studies which favour single-use over reuse often lack transparency and have implicit biases against reuse due to funders’ interests, cherrypicked scenarios and false assumptions, according to a new report by Reloop and Zero Waste Europe.

Greater transparency in published studies will be essential to understand the economic and environmental viability of reusable take-away packaging versus single-use options.

Within the wider context of current EU negotiations on reuse targets in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations (PPWR), it is essential that the decisions policymakers take are based on the best available evidence rather than industry lobbying efforts.

With risk of reuse targets being scrapped altogether, there is a clear need for a critical review of the anti-reuse theories and evidence to ensure the right conclusions are being drawn and the best environmental outcomes occur.

The report “Unveiling the Complexities: Exploring LCAs of Reusable Packaging in the Take-Away Sector” was produced by circular economy specialists at Eunomia Research & Consulting and focuses on three Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) from the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), McDonald’s and the University of Michigan. These three were chosen to display the spectrum of methodology and transparency across published studies looking at reusable take-away packaging.

A Life Cycle Assessment is a way to assess environmental impacts from all stages of a product’s life from material acquisition, production, use, end-of-life treatment, recycling and disposal.

The report found the EPPA study relies heavily on assumptions which have weak evidence bases, and that the conclusions are biased in favour of single-use by only considering existing conditions which are limited by the current take-make-waste linear economic structure, rather than trying to understand what could be achieved in a more circular future economy.

The authors of the EPPA report argue that poorly designed reuse systems are unlikely to outperform single-use options, despite the fact that the reuse system they focus on is itself suboptimal. Instead, it is critical to understand what the best-case outcomes would look like and to avoid static assumptions as reuse system infrastructure would improve over time. The focus of debate should be on what can be done to improve reuse systems, rather than how it performs in the status quo.

The McDonald’s study on the other hand does not provide enough information on its methodology, or data and assumptions, which limits the ability of any meaningful analysis or review of its findings.

The third study from the University of Michigan by Hitt et al. provides a much more robust framework for constructive discussions around reusable take-away packaging and was the only study not industry funded or found to be lacking on transparency and assumptions.

By asking the right questions about the information being presented to us, especially in terms of funding and transparency of data, we can better discern which are most worthy of attention and debate.

Clarissa Morawski of Reloop said: “Reuse will be an important function of a circular economy and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation can be a useful tool to start to embed reuse thinking and design into our economic systems. This report clearly shows that the published studies we examined which favour single-use take-away packaging over reuse are inherently flawed biased and nowhere near transparent enough to be taken seriously academically or for policy-making.”

Larissa Copello, Packaging and Reuse Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe stated: “It’s clear that some of the industry funded studies on reusable take-away packaging are flawed and did not explore the full potential of reuse systems for packaging. There’s no such a thing as a sustainable material, but rather a sustainable system.  When it comes to reusable packaging, a key element for efficient systems is pooling systems for reuse, under which the ownership of the packaging is shared among the participants as well as all the logistics and infrastructure, including washing facilities, collections points, etc. The revision of the PPWR should support such well-designed systems to be scaled up across Europe, through mandatory reuse targets and economic incentives for reuse.”

Daniel Stunell, Managing Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting said: “Transparency is essential to maintain credibility and ensure any findings can be properly scrutinised. We found that by using the same underlying data but with slightly more positive assumptions for reuse the picture ends up looking very different. For example assuming a 90% return rate rather than the 70% used by McDonald’s sees a 300% reduction in raw material impact, and this gets significantly better the closer we can get to 100%. Exploring these kinds of assumptions openly is essential to understanding the environmental potential of reuse.”


Notes to Editors

– – Link to full report

– – Kearny for McDonald’s reuse report

– – Ramboll for EPPA single-use packaging report

– – Hitt et al. report on single-use vs reuse take-away packaging

Press contacts 
Sean Flynn, Media Outreach & Communications Officer at Zero Waste Europe, [email protected] or [email protected] / +32 471 96 55 93

About Reloop
Reloop is an international nonprofit organisation, whose vision is a world free of waste, where natural resources remain resources. Leading the global transition to a circular economy, Reloop provides evidence-based research and analysis to governments, industry and NGOs. (

About Zero Waste Europe 
Zero Waste Europe is a European network of communities, local leaders, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society. Advocating for sustainable systems and the redesign of mankind’s relationship with resources, they accelerate a just transition towards zero waste for the benefit of people and the planet.

About Eunomia Research and & Consulting 
Eunomia is an independent sustainability consultancy driven by a genuine passion to make a positive change to the clients we work with and the communities they operate in.

Our consultants are experts in the field, deeply immersed in the subject with the technical knowledge and skill to offer clients innovative, clear and practical recommendations.

We are committed to finding solutions to better protect the planet, while supporting the wider aims and needs of our clients.

For more information about Eunomia, please visit