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Tri-national lifecycle analysis

Returnable cups are kinder to the environment.

Returnable cup systems have a far lower impact on the environment than single-use solutions.
Compostable, single-use cups made from renewable raw materials fare no better than standard single-use cups. This was shown in a comparative lifecycle assessment carried out on behalf of the German, Austrian and Swiss environmental ministries for the UEFA EURO 2008 football tournament.

The study provides the latest ecological statistics on the most established returnable and single-use cups available on the market today. With the support of the German environmental ministry and in conjunction with the cities of Basel, Bern, Zurich, Vienna, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Hanover, the Austrian and Swiss environmental ministries instructed the Austrian Institute of Ecology, the Swiss firm Carbotech AG and the German Institute for Applied Ecology to conduct a comparative lifecycle assessment for various cup systems used to serve beverages. This was carried out within the framework of the sustainability concept of the UEFA EURO 2008 football tournament. The initial results of the cup study were presented to UEFA on November 8th, 2007.

Comparison of materials, disposal, circulation ratios

The study investigated the ecological impact of various cup systems (single-use and returnable). The framework for the study, which took into account quantity, circulation ratios and transportation distances, was provided by the conditions to which UEFA EURO 2008 was subject. Single-use cups made from PET, polystyrene, cardboard, PLA (a biodegradable material based on materials such as corn starch) and the special plastic made by Belland (all of which are disposed of in different ways) were compared with a returnable cup system. Varying circulation ratios were assumed for this cup type in relation to the number of games played and the number of cups taken home as souvenirs.

The key findings of the study:

  • Even from a pessimistic viewpoint, a returnable cup system is significantly kinder to the environment than any single-use system. The best single-use scenario has twice the environmental impact of the least favourable returnable cup system. Thus, using a returnable cup system is definitely the most environmentally sound solution. As with any system that uses refundable deposits, users are motivated to return cups rather than throw them away, thereby minimising litter.
  • The study also serves to confirm the results of other research projects which found that compostable, single-use cups (such as PLA cups) are no more environmentally friendly than single-use cups made from PET.
  • The same is true for single-use cups made from Belland plastic. The environmental impact of these cups is no better than that of single-use PET cups.

Return to overview Download the complete study (german, 137 pages/6.82 MB)B)