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Why Reusable Containers Aren’t Always Better for the Environment – Check Out New Research

Reusable containers have long been hailed as a way to reduce our carbon footprint. However, new evidence suggests that recyclable plastics also have a significant impact.

If you heard anything about green living, you probably know that single-use plastics are a big problem. From filling up landfills to giving off harmful chemicals and damaging wildlife, excess plastic production is a huge issue for humans to tackle if we want to beat climate change. Still, single-use plastic and takeaway containers remain the norm. It doesn’t matter whether you make money serving drinks or playing online casino games with, you probably consume at least one item a week in a takeaway container.

Reusable containers seemed like a godsend at first. A solution to these plastic woes. However, new research has emerged suggesting that reusable plastics may not be the squeaky-clean option many of us imagine. For one, they are still made of plastic, which doesn’t decompose. And for another, you should also factor in how much carbon they take to produce, which is typically higher than single-use options. Here’s what we’ve learned about reusable containers' environmental impact.

Are Reusable Containers Eco-Friendly?

Many environmental activists were dismayed during the pandemic as reusable containers' covid risk was highlighted. People were banned from taking their own coffee mugs to Starbucks and the work pack lunch was replaced by Deliveroo takeaways, frequently transported in single-use containers. The popularity of reusable containers has been steadily growing, however, despite this blip.

As companies try to phase out single-use plastics, many stores are hoping to replace them with reusable or refillable models that consumers can use again and again. Some businesses also use the model where a customer takes a product and then returns the packaging to the store to be recycled. However, these models heavily rely on people and companies actually following these instructions. In recent years, it has been revealed that some companies only reuse a small percentage of containers returned to them, meaning that lots still ends up as landfill. Some other issues with this model include:

●     Production Methods

Some reusable containers are more carbon-intensive to produce than traditional takeaway packaging. Polypropylene reusable recycling containers, such as plastic food boxes, are by far the most popular lunchbox choice for climate-conscious consumers. However, studies show producing these containers can use more energy and more raw materials than producing things like Styrofoam.

●     Repeated Cleaning

Although reusable containers for food are a good option to reduce your individual plastic use, they require energy to clean. Heating water is an extremely energy-intensive process. That’s why your kettle is likely one of the most expensive gadgets in your house in terms of energy cost and expenditure.

So, is washing your reusable lunch containers every night bad for the environment? Probably. However, on balance, it likely works out similarly to buying takeaway plastic every day. If hot food or canteen options are available where you work, try opting for those instead.

●     Sanitation Problems

To offset the carbon impact of its production, studies estimate that you would have to reuse your plastic food container between 16 and 208 times. While many people do this with no problems, issues in sanitation can arise if reusable packaging gets scuffed or damaged. Bacteria can collect in scratches inside packaging meaning that it may not be the most sanitary option over time.

However, many environmental scientists argue that, as a society, we are too clean. In fact, the unnecessary use of cleaning agents contributes to air pollution and species decline. If you are using reusable food containers, just keep an eye on their condition and don’t use them if they are becoming difficult to clean thoroughly.

Should You Use Reusable Containers, Not Plastic Ones?

If your goal is to reduce plastic waste, then refillable containers, or containers made from other materials, can be a good option. While they do come with a carbon footprint of their own, there is still some value in reducing single-use plastics in your own life. However, while individual actions can help sway companies to make more environmental changes, large-scale change is needed to tackle plastic waste.

More sustainable ways of packaging food and cutting carbon emissions across the food industry are required. This is about creating less plastic in the first place, including plastic reusable containers. Limiting the amount of animal products produced and consumed is also a step towards a greener for industry, as is switching to more sustainable farming methods. Without the support of large businesses and governments, this will be extremely difficult to achieve in any meaningful way.


Finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce plastic use can be extremely tough. It requires a shift in our lifestyle that is not practical for the majority of people. While reusable containers can be a helpful option, opting for places that use biodegradable packaging might be a better choice if you want to help the planet.

Final Call: Do you like to use recyclable containers? What steps do you take to live a greener life? Share your tips in the comments!

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