The Carbon Footprint of Reuse
Plastic pollution is proliferating at an alarming rate all over the world. In India with it's growing middle class, plastic usage is set to double by 2030. To tackle this issue innovative reuse models are cropping up all over the world, India included.
One common question around reuse models that comes up frequently is the carbon cost associated with the additional logistics of picking up the bottle and the water associated with washing it.
At first glance it looks like the cost is double?! Will you come all the way just to pick up my bottle? Some reuse models do operate like this. For example the Loop Store in the US,EU and Australia ships empty bottles back to a cleaning facility from the customer and then once again to the filling unit.
In this scenario it’s important to look at the Total Carbon Cost of the product over the entire lifecycle, not just the shipping.
Pre - Life (Making the Product)
Transportation is just one piece of the puzzle. 70% of green house gas emissions are directly related to material extraction and production! For every new bottle that is required, the requisite raw materials need to be extracted from the earth, processed, purified and shipped to a manufacturer that will then convert into a ready packaging material. The energy requirements for this process are significant and the environmental harm to extract these resources taxing. The bottles are of course cleaned and prepared at this stage as well.
This empty bottle will then travel to every respective product manufacturer to be filled, packed and distributed to customers.
Post - Life (Waste Management or Recycling)
Moreover the lifecycle of a single use product does not end at your door. Diesel powered garbage trucks will carry your empty containers to a out of city landfill where they will slowly decompose over the next 400 years emitting methane and CO2 (Landfills are responsible for 11% of global CO2e emissions)
If we’re lucky enough for the product to be recycled, it will still need to be shipped across the country to a sorting facility, cleaned and then another recycling facility elsewhere.
Not only does reusing packaging eliminate the waste from entering the landfill, but it prevents the CO2 emissions associated with the production of the packaging and it’s eventual disposal. The study above shows the CO2 impact reducing per bottle, the more no of times it is used, until eventually only the impacts associated with the logistics of each use remain.
So reusing a bottle is definitely much more carbon effective when raw materials are taken into account. Life Cycle assessments have shown how bottles when reused can become carbon neutral after 5 uses. Hence the focus should remain on keeping these bottles in use and circulation for as long as possible. The only CO2 costs associated with the product are now related to the logistics and the cleaning of the bottle.
Restore has taken this model even further, by reducing shipping area per location to a hyperlocal model. Products are cleaned and filled at a local facility for each city for products where this is possible. Not only does this avoid cross country shipping, pickups and drop offs are overlapped with other deliveries increasing cost effectiveness and further reducing the carbon footprint.
Climate change, clean energy, plastic pollution, circular economy and the fossil fuel based economy are all different sides of the same die. All interconnected and intricately linked with each other. With the climate crisis looming ever closer, we have to face these challenges head on with an ever growing sense of urgency.
 S. Nessi, L. Rigamonti, and M. Grosso, “Waste prevention in liquid detergent distribution: A comparison based on life cycle assessment,” Sci. Total Environ., vol. 499, no. 1, pp. 373–383, 2014.
 D. Amienyo, H. Gujba, H. Stichnothe, and A. Azapagic, “Life cycle environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks,” Int. J. Life Cycle Assess., vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 77–92, 2013.