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Improving the environmental sustainability of reusable food containers in Europe

•  Over 275 M food savers are used annually in the EU with a GWP of 653 kt CO2 eq.
•  The use stage is the main hotspot for all the impacts (>40%).
•  Lifespan of glass containers must be up to 3.5 times longer to match plastic savers.
•  The dishwasher eco-design regulation can reduce EU impacts by 6%–20% by 2020.
•  Implementation of best hand dishwashing techniques can decrease impacts by 12%–27%.

Modern lifestyles have popularised the use of food containers, also known as food savers or Tupperware. However, their environmental impacts are currently unknown. To fill this knowledge gap, this paper presents the first comprehensive assessment of the life cycle environmental sustainability of reusable plastic and glass food savers and evaluates different options for improvements, focusing on European conditions. Taking a cradle-to-grave approach, the paper considers twelve environmental impacts, including global warming potential (GWP), acidification, eutrophication, human and ecotoxicities. The results suggest that, for example, the total GWP of using both types of food saver in the European Union (EU) amounts to 653 kt CO2 eq./year, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Bermuda. The use stage is the main contributor to the impacts (>40%), related to the washing of containers. Glass food savers have 12%–64% higher impacts than the plastic and should have up to 3.5 times greater lifespan to match the environmental footprint of plastic containers. Three improvement scenarios have been considered at the EU level for the year 2020: low-carbon electricity mix; implementation of the EU eco-design regulation for dishwashers; and adoption of more resource-efficient hand dishwashing techniques. The results suggest that the implementation of all three improvement options would reduce the impacts by 12%–47%. The option with the greatest potential for reducing the impacts (12%–27%) is improved hand dishwashing to reduce the amount of water, energy and detergents used. Thus, policy makers and manufacturers should devise strategies to raise awareness and guide consumers in adopting these techniques with the aim of reducing the environmental impacts associated with reusable food savers used by millions of people worldwide.


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