Reuse systems can tackle plastic pollution

Sabir Hussain

Reuse systems can help address plastic pollution and its adverse effects on the environment and public health. A new study carried out by Global Plastic Policy Center at the University of Portsmouth reveals that by adopting existing systems like reusable packaging, the leakage of single-use plastics into the environment could be reduced by an impressive 80% by 2040. Furthermore, reuse systems offer a substantial 32% reduction in CO2 emissions through decreased material production and disposal, even when considering the additional transportation and washing requirements.

The potential impact of reusable packaging is exemplified by a scenario in the European Union, where a 50% adoption rate of reusable packaging by 2030 in the food and drink on-the-go, e-commerce, and household care sectors could result in substantial savings. This includes a reduction of 3.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, conservation of 10 billion cubic meters of water, and avoidance of 28 million metric tons of waste annually.

One of the remarkable advantages of reusable packaging is its ability to minimize environmental damage, water pollution, and emissions through reduced production and material use. Compared to single-use alternatives, reusable packaging proves to be a more sustainable choice, with significant potential to mitigate the adverse impacts associated with plastic waste.

The study also draws attention to the disproportionate health risks faced by fence line communities residing within 5 kilometers of refineries or plastic manufacturing plants. These communities face a 30% higher risk of developing leukemia compared to areas without such producers nearby. These findings underscore the urgent need to address the health implications of plastic production on vulnerable communities.

In addition to their environmental and health benefits, reuse systems play a crucial role in waste reduction and preventing overload of waste infrastructure. They also hold the potential to combat illegal waste practices. Unregulated open burning, a common disposal method, releases black carbon, which has a global warming potential approximately 5,000 times higher than CO2. This practice not only contributes to climate change but also poses serious health risks due to the release of toxins.

Furthermore, reusable packaging significantly reduces water consumption. For instance, the production of 500 single-use cups requires a staggering 370 gallons of water, whereas a single ceramic cup reused 500 times only necessitates 53 gallons of water for washing. This stark comparison highlights the water-saving potential of reusable alternatives. One of the primary concerns surrounding reusable packaging is the increased durability required, which often leads to higher weight and material usage. The research highlights that in reality, no material is entirely impact-free. Surprisingly, the initial manufacturing of reusable packaging may generate greater environmental impacts compared to single-use items at the same stage. It becomes crucial, therefore, to determine the sustainability breakeven point – the number of uses a reusable item must undergo before its environmental impact per use becomes lower than that of an equivalent single-use item.

One of the notable benefits of reuse systems for businesses is the potential reduction in waste management costs. By embracing reuse, opportunities arise for public-private partnerships to develop reuse infrastructure and create job opportunities. Additionally, implementing reuse systems can contribute to local economic uplift by reducing reliance on imports and global supply chains. By embracing reuse and exploring opportunities for centralized pooling and standardized systems, businesses can unlock economic benefits while simultaneously contributing to the reduction of plastic pollution and environmental harm. Governments and industry stakeholders must collaborate to establish supportive frameworks and incentives that encourage businesses to adopt reuse systems, fostering sustainable practices that benefit both the economy and the environment.

The study’s findings highlight the critical importance of embracing reuse systems on a global scale to effectively address plastic pollution, mitigate carbon emissions, safeguard communities from health risks, and preserve our precious resources, including water. It is imperative for governments, businesses, and consumers to make sustainable practices a top priority and actively support the widespread implementation of reuse systems. By consistently enhancing the sustainability of reusable packaging and filling existing knowledge gaps, we can work towards a future where the preservation of our environment and the well-being of humanity are equally valued and prioritized. Together, we can secure a cleaner and healthier world for present and future generations.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist and Editor S&T of Sunrise Today. He covers science & technology, environment, agriculture, climate change, global warming, energy crisis and public health. He can be contacted at:

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