Environmental Impacts of Takeaway Food Containers

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According to researchers from University of Manchester effective measures are required to tackle the growing environmental impact of takeaway food containers

A research from University of Manchester published in Journal of Cleaner Production on November 24, 2018, estimated that around 2025 million takeaway containers are used annually in the European Union (EU). According to the researchers, use of effective measures to recycle disposable takeaway containers can aid in reducing equivalent greenhouse gas emissions generated annually by 55,000 cars. The research is the first ever comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of disposable takeaway-food containers.

The team observed aluminum, polystyrene (Styrofoam), and polypropylene (clear plastic) containers and compared these to reusable plastic containers such as Tupperware. The team found that Styrofoam containers have the lowest carbon footprint, which is around 50% lower than aluminum containers and three times lower than plastic containers. However, Styrofoam containers are not a sustainable packaging as these containers are not extensively recycled and are often dumped in landfill. The team used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to estimate the impacts of containers by recording manufacture, use, and end-of-life waste management of containers. The team investigated 12 different environmental impacts such as climate change, depletion of natural resources, and marine ecotoxicity.

The researchers found that the Styrofoam container was the best option among the disposable containers across all the impacts considered such as the carbon footprint. The Styrofoam container had 50% lower carbon footprint compared to aluminum and three times lower compared to plastic. This is attributed to the lower amount of materials and energy used in the production of Styrofoam compared to aluminum and plastic containers. However, Styrofoam containers are currently not recycled. Therefore, these containers cannot be considered a sustainable packaging option for food. According to the research, recycling 50% of the containers currently in use can reduce carbon footprint by 33%.

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About Author

Curt Reaves started working for Plains Gazette in 2016. Curt grew up in a small town in northern Iowa. He studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married his wife one month later. He has been a proud Texan for the past 5 years. Curt covers politics and the economy. Previously he wrote for the Washington City Paper, The Hill newspaper, Slate Magazine, and ABCNews.com.