Skip to main content

A Life Cycle Assessment on Single-Use and Reuse Beer Cups at Festivals

Abstract

This article aims at comparing the environmental performance of single-use and multiple use beer cups at festivals. A life cycle assessment is conducted for assessing the potential environmental impacts of 1000 servings of 0.5 l of beer at Norwegian festivals. Three single-use systems are considered: one with incineration, one with open loop recycling, and one with closed loop recycling. The two first single-use systems and the reuse system assume the use of PP cups, while the latter uses PET cups, as PET is the only plastic material which currently allows a closed loop recycling system. Existing literature has shown that the choice of system depends on several site-specific parameters such as the definition of the trip rate in a reuse system and on the festival participant’s behaviour. In this article, we calculate the trip rate in the reuse system based on the cup return rates, which varies between all systems. The return rate was calculated using empirical data for Norway’s largest festival. In addition, the recycling stage is modelled with both cut-off and system expansion for assessing the robustness of the results. To reduce environmental impacts related to the serving of beers, festivals are advised to get an overview of the flows of the cups after use, to measure and limit their waste, and to have good collection systems for handling the cups as intended. The results of this study show that this is more important than the choice of cup material. LCA practitioners should be cautious with the implications of the end-of-life modelling approach on the results.

Introduction

Single-use beverage cups are amongst the top items found littered on beaches around the world [1]. These disposable cups are widely used as a cheap and convenient way to consume takeaway drinks. But due in part to variable recycling habits and waste management practices globally, too many of the 500 billion single-use cups consumed each year end up discarded as litter [2]. As with all mismanaged plastic waste, single-use beverage cups contribute significantly to marine pollution with impacts on marine biodiversity loss, as well as impacts on industries like tourism fishing and shipping [3]. In recent years, a number of alternatives have been put forward, including reusable cups and improved management at end-of-life.

Large-scale events are responsible for the consumption of considerable amounts of plastic cups for beverage servings. A rough estimate shows that around 7 million servings are sold at festivals in Oslo, Norway, over 1 year [4]. Traditionally, single-use cups have been used in Norway, which are collected as part of the residual waste, sent for incineration with energy recovery. The challenges of climate change, resource use, and plastic pollution have however led to the surge of alternatives. This paper aims at analysing the potential environmental impacts of the reference and alternative systems for serving beer at Norwegian festivals, based on life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. A reuse system and closed and open loop recycling systems are compared to the reference scenario, namely single-use cups sent to incineration. The single-use and the reuse systems are assumed to use polypropylene (PP) cups, while the closed-loop recycling system uses polyethylene terephthalate (PET) cups, as part of the current PET-bottle collection and recycling flow. The three systems analysed in this study represent the three currently available options for beer serving at Norwegian events.

Previous work on the topic has been varying in scope. Most of the research considers single-use and reusable packaging systems and assessments over their supply chain [5, 6]. Several studies have also been published more specifically on the environmental performance of beverage and beverage packaging alternatives over the value chain [7,8,9,10]. When it comes to beverage containers (glasses/cups), UNEP [2] classified the body of research in three categories: (1) LCA studies comparing single-use beverage cups [11, 12], (2) LCA studies comparing single-use and reusable cups for hot drinks [13,14,15,16,17], and (3) LCA studies comparing single-use and reusable cups for cold drinks [18, 19].

Of particular interest for this article is the latter category. Garrido and Alvarez del Castillo [20] compared single-use and reusable polypropylene cups for large events in Spain. The authors concluded that the reusable cup should be used minimum 10 times to have a smaller environmental impact than the single-use cup. Vercalsteren et al. [19] compared four cups with LCA methodology: one reuse cup of polycarbonate and three single-use alternatives, namely PP, PLA, and laminated cardboard for 1000 l of beers served. The authors could not make a straightforward conclusion for the selection of the most favourable cup system. The trip rate of reusable cups, being the average number of times one cup can be used before disposal, was defined for small-scale indoor event and large-scale outdoor events, set as 45 and 20 trips per cup, respectively. The authors based these values on an inventory of literature data, practical experiences, and an inquiry amongst stakeholders, and the parameter was assessed as an important aspect in the study context. Changwichan and Gheewala [18] compare three plastic single-use beverage cups, namely bio-based plastic cup of PLA derived from sugarcane, PP cup plus lid and a PET-cup, and one reusable beverage cup of stainless steel. The study applies focuses on global warming potential, fossil fuel depletion, human toxicity, and terrestrial acidification. The reusable stainless steel cup led to the lowest impacts on climate change and fossil fuel resource depletion, followed by the PLA cup and lastly the PP cup, as long as the cups are handled in a proper manner after use. This relates to the conclusions drawn by Potting and van der Harst [21], which highlight that the results for the reusable cups contained large uncertainty due to widely varying user behaviour. This was also acknowledged by UNEP [2] to be a key parameter in LCAs of cup alternatives. UNEP [2] conclude in their meta-study that reusable cups emerge as the better alternative, but this however depends on specific conditions. In regions where renewable electricity makes up a high proportion of the grid mix, recycling rates are low, and consumers are aware and responsible with regard to washing practices and number of reuses, reusable cups are the clear choice. Single-use cups are seen to obtain similar environmental impacts regardless of the material they are made of (whether bio-plastic, fossil-based plastic, or paper) [2]. Nonetheless, specific LCA’s should be conducted for informing national policy makers, as national differences influence key parameters, such as transportation, washing technologies and practices, and waste treatment processes [2].

This article aims at identifying the beer cup system which leads to the lowest potential environmental impacts for use at festivals, comparing different types of single-use systems with a reuse system in a Norwegian context. Existing literature has shown that the choice of system depends on several site-specific parameters such as the definition of the trip rate in a reuse system [19] and on public behaviour [2, 18, 21]. These challenges are met in this article by calculating the return rate of used cups based on empirical data, which varies with the festival’s cup collection system. This reflects the behaviour of the Norwegian festival audience. The novelty of this article lies in the calculation of the trip rate in the reuse system based on empirical data for return rates. The data is collected from a Norwegian festival which has experience with both single-use and reuse systems. The trip rate is a direct consequence of the return rate, as the cup is lost before it reaches the number of cycles it can be washed before it is worn out. Several authors have described the comparison between single-use and reusable products in the framework of the circular economy in terms of break-even points [22, 23] or theoretical trip rates rather than calculating trip rate based on empirical data.

From a methodological point of view, the reviewed literature is not consistent in terms of end-of-life modelling, varying between the application of cut-off and system expansion methods. This is in line with the conclusions of UNEP [2] and Van Der Harst and Potting [11]. This article aims to use both recycling modelling methods as a way of testing the robustness of the results.

Methodology

An LCA was conducted for assessing the potential environmental impacts from four beer cup alternatives, based on the ReCiPe Midpoint H as impact assessment method [24]. LCA is a well-known method for documenting environmental impacts of products and services throughout their life cycle, from raw material extraction, production, and use to waste management. The method is standardised through the ISO system [25, 26]. An LCA project is divided into the following four steps: defining goal and scope of the study (the “Goal and Scope Definition” section), life cycle inventory (the “Life Cycle Inventory” section), environmental impact assessment (the “Environmental Impact Assessment” section), and interpretation of results (the “Results” section). In the goal and scope section, the functional unit and the system boundaries of the four cup systems are first described, followed by a presentation of the data in use for return rates, wastage rates, and trip rates. The life cycle inventory section describes the data collection procedure, the data availability, and the inventory. The “Results” section presents first overall results by comparing the potential environmental impacts related to the different cup systems. Then, the influence of the trip rate on the environmental impacts of the reuse system is presented, followed by a contribution analysis of the life cycle stages. Finally, the break-even points for the reuse system, based on wastage rates, are presented. The discussion highlights critical factors for ranking the cup systems, the choice of end-of-life modelling methods, and strengths and limitations of the study.

Goal and Scope Definition

Functional Unit

The functional unit used for comparing four beer cup system is defined as 1000 servings of 0.5 L of beer. The environmental burdens of production, use, and waste management of four beer cup systems are compared:

  1. 1)

    Single-use cups which are collected as part of the residual waste and sent for incineration with energy recovery, using PP cups, illustrated in Fig. 1

  2. 2)

    Single-use cups which are collected for open loop recycling, using PP cups, illustrated in Fig. 2

  3. 3)

    Single-use cups which are collected for closed loop recycling, using PET cups, illustrated in Fig. 3

  4. 4)

    Reusable cups which are collected, washed, and reused, using PP cups, illustrated in Fig. 4

Fig. 1
figure 1

Flowchart of the single-use system with incineration [27]

Fig. 2
figure 2

Flowchart of the single-use system with open loop recycling [27]

Fig. 3
figure 3

Flowchart of the single-use system with closed loop recycling [27]

Fig. 4
figure 4

Flowchart of the reuse system [27]

System Boundaries

The system boundaries vary with the beer cup system studied. A description of each system with corresponding flowcharts is presented below.

A material recycling process represents a waste management process for a first product, but is also the material production process of a second product. According to Allacker et al. [28], at least 11 different formulas have been identified as widely used and accepted methodologies for end-of-life allocation of burdens and credits of recycling process between different stages of product cascade systems, but there is no consensus which method to apply [28,29,30]. In a cut-off approach, also called recycled content and 100:0, recycling activities are allocated to the product using recycled material. Hence, the recycling process is defined as a production process and a system boundary (cut-off) is placed between the first and second product system. In a system expansion approach, also called substitution approach or 0:100, recycling activities are allocated to the product generating recycled material. Hence, the system is expanded by including avoided burdens from the substitution of virgin material. Different end-of-life modelling methods can give quite different results [31]. The cut-off method provides incentives for the use of recycled material but is indifferent to the recyclability of products. In comparison, the system expansion approach promotes recycling but gives no incentive to use recycled material. Other modelling methods also exist for recycling, such as the European Commission’s Circular Footprint Formula (CFF) in the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) system, which combines benefits to the recycled materials and substitution effects. The choices of modelling methods vary in the reviewed literature: both the cut-off method [18], system expansion [21], and the CFF method [16] are applied. As no consensus exists, we apply both the cut-off and the system expansion methods in this study. These methods represent the two extremes of what the modelling methods rewards, and their use therefore helps to test the robustness of the results.

Singe Use System with Incineration

The single-use system with incineration (Fig. 1) has traditionally been used at Norwegian festivals. The festival uses PP cups, which are collected after use as part of the residual waste and sent to incineration with energy recovery. This system hence presumes that the festival has no separate collection system for beer cups. In a cut-off approach, the following life cycle stages are accounted for: virgin material is extracted, the cup is produced, transported to the festival, used, collected and transported form the festival, and finally incinerated. In a system expansion approach, the avoidance of district heating is also included.

Single-Use System with Open Loop Recycling

The single-use system with open loop recycling (Fig. 2) depicts a system where beer cups made of virgin material are collected after use as a separate waste flow and sent to material recycling as part of the Norwegian Green Dot system [32]. This system hence presumes that the festival has a separate collection system for beer cups. A part of the flow is however sent to incineration, as it is assumed a share of the cups end up in the residual waste. In a cut-off approach, the same life cycle stages are included as in the single-use system (Fig. 1). In a system expansion approach, incinerated cups induce the avoidance of district heating, while recycled cups induce the avoidance of virgin material.

Single-Use System with Closed Loop Recycling

The single-use system with closed loop recycling (Fig. 3) depicts a system where beer cups made of a combination of virgin and recycled material are collected after use as a separate waste flow and sent to material recycling. This system hence presumes that the festival has a separate collection system for beer cups. In a closed loop recycling system, the material recycling step is included in the system boundaries as a material production process in both the cut-off and system expansion approaches. Because PET is currently the only material which is recycled in a closed-loop system, this system is modelled with cups made of PET. In fact, it is assumed that the PET cups are handled in the well-developed closed loop PET-bottle recycling system.

Reuse System

The reuse system (Fig. 4) represents a system where beer cups of virgin material are used, collected, washed, and reused. This system presumes that the festival has a collection system in place. It is however assumed that not all cups are reused: some end up as part of the residual waste and are sent to incineration and some end up as part of the plastic waste and are sent to material recycling. The cups which come out of the reuse system must be replaced by new cups for fulfilling the functional unit. In a cut-off approach, the stages from raw material extraction to incineration are included, together with the washing step. The material recycling stage, the avoided district heating from incineration, and avoided virgin material from material recycling are also included in a system expansion approach.

Return and Wastage Rates

Existing literature has shown that consumer behaviour is of importance [2, 18, 21], which might most likely also apply in a festival context. In this article, collection rates of the cups after use were calculated for all systems based on empirical data from Øyafestivalen, the largest festival in the Oslo region, as a proxy for public behaviour. The data in this study is based on a previous study commissioned by a Norwegian festival [27] and has been further refined and adapted for the assessments performed in this article.

The share of beer cups collected and sent to various waste management processes depends on the one hand on the beer cup system in place (single-use or reuse), and on the other hand, on potential additional collection by volunteers on the festival area.

This analysis differentiates between return rate and wastage rate for calculating the mass flows to either incineration, recycling, or washing. The sum of the return rate and the wastage rate shall constitute the entire amount of beer cups used at the festival. The return rate is the sum of the collection rate and the additional collection rate, and constitutes the quantities that go to “correct” handling after use, as defined by the festival organiser. The collection rate is the proportion of cups that is delivered by the festival audience in the “correct way”. Additional collection rate is the proportion of cup that is cleaned up and sorted, often by volunteers, and sent for proper waste handling after use. Wastage rate is the proportion of cup that is not sent for proper handling. It includes the waste that ends up in residual waste, and beer cups that are taken home as souvenirs and end up at the festival participant’s home (assumed to be only relevant for reusable cups). The cups brought home as souvenirs is assumed to later be used as normal cups: this share is therefore modelled free of burdens, as they actually not become waste. The reasons for wastage may be poor communication about how the beer cups should be delivered/disposed of or indifference. The beer cups can also potentially be thrown in nature or sorted at the home of festival participants, but this is believed to be a negligible amount and is therefore excluded from the analysis.

Øyafestivalen has been applying different beer cup systems. Data from their experience (2015–2018 for the single-use systems, and 2019 for the reuse system) are used to define the return and wastage rates of the various systems (Table 1). The quality of the data varies as it is based on only one festival and for the reuse system only on 1 year, but the data is empirical and the best available for Norwegian festivals. For festivals operating with single-use system, but without specific collection of the cups after use, it is assumed that the collection rate is 0 and that the wastage hence corresponds to 100% of the cups. For festivals using single-use cups which are either sent to open or closed loop recycling after use, the collection rate was defined as 69%. Additional collection rate amounted to 26%, and the remaining share was assumed to end up as wastage in the residual waste. For reuse systems, the collection rate was calculated to be higher: 78%. Additional collection rate for reuse was 10%, and additional collection for material recycling (audience sorting the cups as plastic waste instead of handing them back) was assumed to be 5%. Five percent of the cups were assumed to be taken home by the audience as souvenirs, and the remaining share was assumed to end up as wastage in the residual waste. All values are calculated from data provided by Øyafestivalen.

Table 1 Summary of return rates and wastage rates for various systems and festival collection systems. The data in this study is based on a previous study commissioned by a Norwegian festival [27] and has been further refined and adapted for the assessments performed in this article

Trip Rates in the Reuse System

The number of cups needed to fulfil the functional unit varies with the system under study. In a single-use system, where all cups are diverted to incineration or recycling after use, 1000 cups are needed to fulfil the serving of 1000 beers. In a reuse system however, the number of servings per cup is defined as the number of trip rates each cup on average takes before it is diverted out of the system. Previous studies [19] have highlighted the importance of the trip rate in a reuse system, but nonetheless, the reviewed studies comparing single-use with reuse systems have defined a trip rate either theoretically, often not motivating the values chosen, or based on break-even points. This article proposes a different approach, by calculating the trip rate in the reuse system-based empirical data for collection rates, which varies between different festival and events.

In a system without wastage, the trip rate would be related to the durability of the cups, hence how many times the cups can be used and washed before they are worn out. In a system with wastage nonetheless, the number of servings must be adjusted for wastage.

The number of servings, S, can be calculated as a geometric sequence as illustrated in Eq. 1, where ɳstart is the starting amount of cups and r is the sum of collection rate and additional collection rate.

$$S={\sum }_{k=0}^{\infty }{n}_{start}\bullet {r}^{k}=\frac{{n}_{start}}{1-r}$$
(1)

With the same equation, the number of starting cups that are needed to fulfil S servings can be expressed as in Eq. 2:

$$\mathrm{Starting cups}={\upeta }_{\mathrm{start}}=\mathrm{S}\bullet \left(\mathrm{l}-\mathrm{r}\right)$$
(2)

One hundred twenty starting cups hence are needed to fulfil 1000 beer servings (S = 1000) with a collection rate (r) of 88% and a wastage rate of 12%, which gives a trip rate of 8.3. Based on this framework, all 120 cups are becoming as waste after 8.3 trips. The trip rate and number of starting cups per 1000 servings are presented in Table 2 for various wastage percentages. Note that this equation does not fit for marginal conditions, for instance if all cups are collected.

Table 2 Calculations of trip rates and number of per 1000 servings

Life Cycle Inventory

Data Collection

Information regarding material, weight, production location, and transport distances for each beer cup alternative was collected using data collection forms for relevant suppliers of Øyafestivalen. No detailed data has been collected from the production sites of the various beer cup producers. For background processes such as raw material extraction of plastic, production process for beer cups and transport, ecoinvent 3.6 was used. The data in this study is based on a previous study commissioned by a Norwegian festival [27] and has been further refined and adapted for the assessments performed in this article.

Data Availability

Most of the data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article. The remaining datasets are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Inventory

Table 3 summarises the assumptions of each beer cup alternative.

Table 3 Summary of the assumptions for each beer cup alternative

The weight of the cups varies according to which material the cups is made of. Because it is assumed that the PET-cups are handled in the closed loop PET-bottle recycling system, the cups are modelled with 10% recycled material, which is the same amount of recycled material as contained in the Norwegian PET bottles [37]. The PP cups are in contrast made only of virgin material. The singe use PP cups and the reuse PP cups are produced in Germany and France, respectively, and have therefore long transport distances, whereas the closed loop recycled PET cups are produced in Norway and are therefore transported over much shorter distances.

The cups being diverted to energy recovery are transported to the incineration plant outside of Oslo, while the PP cups diverted to a recycling facility are transported to Germany, entering the Green Dot system [32]. There is, in fact, no existing facility for recycling PP in Norway. In comparison, PET can be recycled at a facility located outside of Oslo. The recycling rates also vary depending on the analysed material: PP has a lower recycling grade than PET, which is a result of closed and open loop recycling systems.

When applying system expansion in LCA studies, it is common practice to credit the system when recycling a material considering that this recycled material will substitute virgin material (1:1 substitution ratio) [31]. Using 1:1 substitution ratio can however lead to over-crediting the system. Therefore, quality loss of recycled materials is considered in this study when giving credits to the system, using factors defined by the Circular Footprint Formula. Furthermore, the quality of the material will vary with a closed loop and open loop recycling system. The factors presented for open-loop recycling of PP are therefore used [35], being lower than the factors for closed loop recycling of PET.

Environmental Impact Assessment

SimaPro 9.0 and ecoinvent 3.6 [38] were used to perform the life cycle assessment with ReCiPe Midpoint H as impact assessment method [24]. Eighteen impact categories are assessed: Global warming (GWP), Stratospheric ozone depletion (Ozonestratos), Ionizing radiation (IR), Ozone formation, Human health (Ozonehuman), Fine particulate matter formation (PM), Ozone formation, Terrestrial ecosystems (Ozoneterrestrial), Terrestrial acidification (A), Freshwater eutrophication (Efreshwater), Marine eutrophication (Emarine), Terrestrial ecotoxicity (Ecotoxterrestrial), Freshwater ecotoxicity (Ecotoxfreshwater), Marine ecotoxicity (Ecotoxmarine), Human carcinogenic toxicity (Toxhuman, canc), Human non-carcinogenic toxicity (Toxhuman, non-canc), Land use (LU), Mineral resource scarcity (Resourcemineral), Fossil resource scarcity (Resourcefossil), and Water consumption (W). All results are presented both with a cut-off approach and with a system expansion approach including substituted burdens.

Results

Environmental Impacts from Four Beer Cup Serving Systems

This article aims at identifying the beer cup system which leads to the lowest environmental impacts for use at festivals, comparing different types of single-use systems with a reuse system in a Norwegian context. The results of the five systems under study are presented for all impact categories for festivals with and without additional collection, and for cut-off  (Fig. 5) and system expansion modelling (Fig. 6). The results are normalised against the single-use system with incineration, which is seen as the reference scenario. The results present hence relative impacts of the recycling and reuse systems compared to the single-use system with incineration: lower impacts are represented by negative results, while higher impacts are represented by positive results. A ranking of the various systems environmental performance can be based on the number of impact indicators the systems perform better or worse on, if an equal weighting of the impact categories is considered. The results are presented for the functional unit, namely the serving of 1000 0.5 l of beer.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Relative potential environmental impacts from four different beer cup systems for festivals with and without additional collection, with cut-off approache. The single-use system with incineration is the reference

Fig. 6
figure 6

Relative potential environmental impacts from four different beer cup systems for festivals with and without additional collection, with system expansion approache. The single-use system with incineration is the reference

For festivals with additional collection and modelled with a cut-off approach, the reuse system performs considerably better than the single-use systems for most (11 of 18) impact categories, namely GWP, Ozonestratos, Ozonehuman, Ozoneterrestrial, PM, A, Efreshwater, Ecotoxterrestrial, Toxhuman, carc, Toxhuman, non-carc, and Resourcefossil. A trade-off is however seen for 4 impact categories, namely IR, Emarine, LU, and W for which the reuse system performs worse than the reference. The reuse system has the highest impacts of all assessed systems for the two latter impact categories (LU and W). The open loop system is the second-best alternative, performing considerably better than the reference alternative in 6 impact categories: GWP, Ecotoxterretrial, Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, Toxhuman, carc, Toxhuman, non-carc, while the closed loop recycling leads to considerably higher impacts in most impact categories analysed.

Modelled with a system expansion approach, the ranking of the systems with additional collection is less clear. The single-use system with closed loop recycling performs best amongst all systems for 9 impact categories: GWP, Ozonehuman, Ozoneterrestrial, Ecotoxterrestrial, Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, Toxhuman, carc, Resourcefossil, and Resourcemineral, while a trade-off is seen for 4 impact categories, namely Ozonestratos, IR, LU, and W. In comparison, the reuse system still performs considerably better than the reference alternative for 8 impact categories, namely GWP, Ozonehuman, PM, Ozoneterrestrial, A, Ecotoxterrestrial, Toxhuman, non-carc, and Resourcefossil, but experiences a trade-off for the same impact categories as the single-use system with closed loop recycling, namely Ozonestratos, IR, LU, and W, in addition to Emarine. The open loop recycling system only performs noticeably better than the reference for 2 impact categories (GWP and Resourcefossil). It can be concluded that the reuse system is the preferred option for festivals with additional collection when modelled with a cut-off approach, in terms of number of impact categories it affects the least compared to the other systems, while a closed loop recycling system is the preferred when modelled with a system expansion approach, closely followed by the reuse system.

For festivals without additional collection, the single-use system with open loop recycling performs considerably better for 5 impact categories, namely GWP, Ecotoxterretrial, Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, and Toxhuman, non-carc compared to the other systems under study, when modelled with a cut-off approach. For the remaining impact categories, the open loop recycling system performs marginally better or worse (i.e. less than 10% change within an impact category) than the reference scenario. The uncertainties linked to the study are however likely to be greater than the marginal changes in ranking, making these changes in impact negligible. In comparison, the reuse system and the closed loop recycling system perform considerably worse for most impact categories. It can be concluded that the single-use system with open loop recycling is the preferred option for festivals without additional collection, when modelled with a cut-off approach.

Modelled with a system expansion approach, the reference scenario leads to the lowest impacts for all impact categories except GWP, Ecotoxterretrial, and Resourcefossil. For those impact categories, the single-use system with closed loop recycling performs best.

Influence of the Trip Rate on the Reuse System

For the reuse system, the results uncover large variations in environmental impacts for festivals with and without additional collection: for all impact categories, lower impacts are reached by festivals with additional collection than by festivals without additional collection (Figs. 5 and 6). This implies that the collection rate, which is directly associated with the trip rates (i.e. the number of times a cup is used in a reuse system), largely influences the results for all impact categories. The impact categories GWP, Ozonehuman, Ozoneterrestrial, and Resourcefossil appear to be most sensitive to the trip rates, as highlighted by both end-of-life modelling methods. For these categories, the reuse system reaches the extremes of the ranking dependent on the collection rate: it has the lowest impacts of all analysed system for festivals with additional collection and the highest impacts for festivals without additional collection.

This leads to the conclusion that it is crucial for festivals using reuse cup systems to have additional collection activities, or higher collection rates than the ones presented in this study, in order to obtain lower environmental impacts for all impact categories than single-use cup systems with recycling.

Contribution to the Environmental Impacts

The contribution of the life cycle stages to environmental impact varies according to the impact category assessed.

The raw material extraction phase is the most important contributor to 8 impact categories, namely Ozonehuman, Ozoneterrestrial, PM, A, Toxhuman, carc, Resourcefossil, Resourcemineral, and W. The raw material extraction phase is nonetheless an important contributor to all impact categories with variations between systems.

The production of cups is also a life cycle stage which contributes importantly to several impact categories, especially the following: Ozonestratos, IR, Efreshwater, and Emarine. In addition, the production process is the life cycle stage responsible for the second largest impacts. The manufacturing of cups seems to be to more or less system independent, leading comparable impacts for all cups.

The washing step only influences the reuse system, but influences highly the results of Emarine, Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, and W. Also Ozonestratos is importantly affected by the washing step.

The transport step is in most cases negligible, except for Ozonehuman, Ecotoxterretrial, LU, Resourcefossil, and Resourcemineral, where small impacts are present.

The waste management is, in the same manner, in most cases negligible. However, the impacts of incineration are present for the GWP, Ozonestratos, Ecotoxterretrial, Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, Toxhuman, and non-carc.

When modelling the end-of-life stage with a system expansion approach, the calculations include impacts from the material recycling and credits for avoided extraction of virgin material and for avoided district heating. The first credit relates to system where cups are being recycled while the second relates to the systems where cups are being incinerated. This influences the results in such a manner that the systems with high impacts from raw material extraction for cups which are being recycled also lead to high avoided amounts of virgin material, which again leads to a high offset of impacts. This is for instance the case for PM and Ozonehuman. Equally, a system with high impacts from incineration leads to a high avoidance of district heating, offsetting the impacts from this life cycle phase. This is the case for the toxicity impact categories, for instance.

Presenting all impact categories in a similarly way can be argued to be equal to weighting them equally, which might not be correct. Following, the most relevant impact categories for the analysed systems were identified according to their relative importance from the ReCiPe 2016 endpoint impact assessment method, hierarchist version [24]. A single score approach was first used, which showed that the impacts on human health were of greatest importance in all systems, representing over 90% of the end-point burdens. The impact indicators of importance within this category, together contributing to more than 80% of the total impacts within human health, were GWP and PM. The impacts related to each life cycle stage are therefore presented in detail in for these impact categories for festivals with and without additional collection for cut-off modelling in Fig. 7 and for system expansion modelling in Fig. 8. Detailed graphs of the remaining contribution for the remaining impact categories can be found as Online Resources.

Fig. 7
figure 7

Details of environmental impacts of all analysed systems for global warming potential and particulate matter formation, modelled with a cut-off approach

Fig. 8
figure 8

Details of environmental impacts of all analysed systems for global warming potential and particulate matter formation, modelled with a system expansion approach

With regard to the two most relevant impact indicators (GWP and PM), the raw material stage and the production stage stand for most of the burdens, while incineration is of additional importance for GWP. Based on these indicators, it can be concluded that festivals with additional collection systems should opt for the reuse alternative. According to the cut-off modelling, festivals without additional collection should opt for open loop recycling, while both open and closed loop recycling perform quite similarly when modelled with a system expansion approach.

Break-even Points of the Reuse System Against the Single-Use Systems

It can be concluded from the presented results that the wastage rate, being the proportion of cups that is not sent for proper waste handling, is a decisive parameter for determining which system is the most environmentally friendly. This is well illustrated by the difference in results with and without additional collection (Figs. 5 and 6), and is especially true for the reuse system. Most studies related to this topic have identified a break-even point for reusable cups, which is the number of times a reusable cup needs to be used for the impact to be similar or better than a single-use cup. As this study related the trip rate to empirical data on wastage rate, the break-even point of the wastage is more accurate to present for assessing the sensitivity of the results, illustrated in Fig. 9 for the GWP and fine PM, which were identified as the two most relevant impact indicators for this study.

Fig. 9
figure 9

Break-even point for the wastage percent in a reuse system for global warming and fine particulate matter formation against the wastage of single-use systems. The cut-off results are presented to the left, the system expansion results to the right

The reuse system with different wastage rates is compared to the results of the single-use closed and open loop recycling systems with no additional collection. The wastage rate of the single-use systems is kept constant in this comparison. When modelled with a cut-off system, a wastage of less than 15% is required for the reuse system to outperform the climate impacts of the single-use closed loop recycling system, and less than 18% to outperform the closed loop recycling system, which corresponds to a trip rate of 6.7 and 5.6 cups, respectively. When modelled with system expansion, the reuse system should have a wastage of less than 12% and 14% for having less climate impacts than the single-use system with closed loop and open loop recycling, respectively, which corresponds to a trip rate of 8.3 and 7.1 cups. In light of the impacts on fine particulate matter formation, the wastage rate of the reuse system must be lower than 22% to outperform the two other options.

Concerning other environmental impact categories in the ReCiPe midpoint method, the reuse system must have a wastage of less than 10–20% when calculated with the cut-off approach, depending on the impact category, to outperform most of the impacts of the single-use system with open loop and with closed loop recycling but Emarine, Ecotoxfreshwater, LU, and W have already been identified as trade-off environmental impacts for the reuse system. Because these impact categories are linked to the washing phase, these will always be greater for the reuse system than for the other systems not requiring washing. When modelled with a system expansion approach, the reuse system should have a wastage less than 12%—22%, depending on the impact category, to outperform most of the impacts of the single use system with open loop and with closed loop recycling but for Emarine, Ecotoxfreshwater and W, which will always be greater for the reuse system.

Discussion

Critical Factors for Ranking of the Alternatives

It is not straightforward to point out one preferred system for beer serving at Norwegian festivals, as concluded by previous work. Nonetheless, the results from the performed LCA point out several important parameters and life cycle stages in the context of beer serving that should be taken into account in a decision-making process.

The most important parameter for the choice of beer cup system is the return rate, which is the number of cups collected and handled in a proper manner after use. The results of this study show that a reuse system has lower impacts compared to the single-use systems in all impact categories except from IR, Emarine, LU, and W if the return rate of cups is high. The lower impacts very much relates to the amount of additional material needed for fulfilling the functional unit when the return rate is low, and to the impacts generated during incineration at end-of-life if the cups are not collected and reused. This conclusion nuances the results presented by UNEP [2], concluding that reuse options most often perform better in terms of climate impacts than single-use alternatives: the choice of waste management system matters. In addition, these results highlight the importance of assumptions regarding return and trip rate which has so far been simplified in previous LCA studies. If the return rate at the festival is low, a single-use system where the cups are collected for open loop recycling or for incineration is preferable for most impact categories. As single-use products with incineration might become banned, following the EU policies on single-use plastics, the open loop recycling option appears to be the most beneficial alternative for festivals without additional collection. Furthermore, additional collection performed for instance by volunteers can importantly increase the return rate by avoiding cups being thrown in the municipal waste instead of being either handed back in a reuse system or collected for recycling in a single-use recycling system. This seems to be an efficient manner to improve environmental impacts from the beer serving system.

Concerning the relative impact from each life cycle stage, the extraction of raw materials and the manufacturing of cups must be considered. For the extraction of raw materials, the results correlate with the weight of the cup for all impact categories: the heavier the cup, the higher the impacts. In addition, there are differences between the materials chosen, where PET has a higher impact for all impact categories than PP. In comparison, recycled raw materials have a low impact compared to the sourcing of virgin raw materials, even if their impact is noticeable on all toxicity indicators, on LU and on W. The impacts from manufacturing of cups seem to be system independent, leading to similar impacts for all cups. The use of renewable energy sources in the production process would however reduce the impacts from this life cycle stage.

Finally, the transport stage is in most cases negligible, but for Ozonestratos, Ozonehuman, Ecotoxterrestrial, LU, Resourcefossil, and Resourcemineral, small impacts are present. Similarly, the washing stage has negligible impacts on most impact categories, but influences highly the results of Emarine, Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, frW, and partly of Ozonestratos. In the analysed scenario, the washing facility was assumed to be located in the Oslo region. Because Norway is a country with long distances, impacts from transport would increase if the cups are used far away from Oslo and transported back for washing. The impacts of long transport distances were nonetheless tested by considering the transport of single-use PP cups and reuse PP cups from Germany and France to Norway, respectively. Based on the low impacts from transport to the festival area from continental Europe, it can be concluded that an increase in transport distances for the reuse system would not affect the main conclusions of this study either, but would increase the impacts on Ozonestratos and Ozonehuman, Ecotoxterrestrial, and LU especially. To avoid additional transport distances and therefrom additional life cycle impacts, it could be considered to have local washing activities at the festival, or to have several washing localities around Norway.

These results confirm that the choice of beer cups system should be site specific, as pointed out by previous research. Each festival should hence have knowledge about their return rates when deciding which system to opt for. This parameter can vary depending on the type of event a festival is hosting: smaller concerts where the audience is sitting down will most likely have higher return rates than bigger festivals.

The Choice of EoL Modelling Methods

The analysis was performed with two end-of-life modelling methods to test the robustness of the results. The results of this study varied depending on the modelling method. When modelled with a cut-off approach, the reuse and single-use system for festivals with additional collection and the open loop recycling system for festivals without additional collection were preferred for a majority of impact categories. When modelled with a system expansion approach, a single-use system with closed loop recycling was preferred for festivals with additional collection, and a single-use system with incineration was preferred for festivals without additional collection.

For festivals with additional collection, this difference in ranking is explained by the cut-off approach promoting the use of recycled materials, while the recyclability of a material is beneficial in the system expansion approach. Because of the purity of the closed loop PET recycling, this system reaches high recycling and substitution rates, and gets a lower total impact when calculated with a system expansion approach.

Due to lack of consensus regarding modelling of recycling systems in LCA and due to difference in ranking dependent on modelling method, it is recommended to always include the two methods as part of a sensitivity analysis when reuse and recycling systems are compared.

Strengths, Limitations, and Further Research

The novelty of this study lies in linking the trip rates with waste rates, which is easier for a festival to measure than the trip rates. The strength of this article is the use of empirical waste data measured by Øyafestivalen, a large festival taking place during the summertime in Oslo, for defining the trip rate. This strength might however also be considered a weakness, as the data from Øyafestivalen might not be applicable to other Norwegian festivals. In addition, the single-use systems are calculated with data gathered between 2015 and 2018 (4 festival seasons), whereas the reuse system calculations are only based on data from 2019. Because there is very little variation in the single-use system data over analysed years, it might be considered robust. The data on the reuse system, in comparison, might be affected by the novelty of the system, and may thus not be representative for following years. Another limitation is that no sensitivity analysis has been performed on weight, transport distances, and washing phases.

Finally, the economic aspects have not been considered. Beer cups in reuse systems often come with a deposit scheme, while one-time fee is commonly used for single-use systems. The type of scheme could highly influence the consumer behaviour in terms of return rate. Future research could analyse the effect of such mechanisms on the return rate for the various system.

In July 2019, the directive on single-use plastic products entered into force, which is connected to the European Commission’s Circular economy action plan and Plastics strategy. The directive prohibits the sale of cups made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) and of oxo-degradable material, and further requires the use of a plastic-containing and environmental-effects-of-pollution label. With these restrictions, it is plausible that single-use plastic cups might be substituted with reuse cup systems containing other materials than plastics. It might hence be relevant to analyse the effect of future reuse materials such as recycled plastics, steel or aluminium, which might become relevant alternatives.

Conclusion

This comparative life cycle assessment conducted for assessing the potential environmental impacts of 1000 servings of 0.5 l of beer at Norwegian festivals concluded that the preferred system varies according to the return rate of used cups, the end-of-life modelling method applied, and the impact category analysed. A reuse beer cup system is preferred for a majority of impact categories (GWP, Ozonestratos, Ozonehuman, Ozoneterrestrial, PM, A, Efreshwater, Ecotoxterrestrial, Toxhuman, carc, Toxhuman, non-carc, and Resourcefossil) if the return rate of cups after use is high, i.e. the number of cups handled in a proper manner after use, when modelled with a cut-off approach. When modelled with system expansion, the picture is less clear: a single-use system with closed loop recycling is preferred for a majority of impact categories (GWP, Ozonehuman, Ozoneterrestrial, Ecotoxterrestrial,. Ecotoxfreshwater, Ecotoxmarine, Toxhuman, carc, Resourcefossil, and Resourcemineral), but the reuse system performs well for most impact categories even though it does not have the lowest impacts in all categories. In comparison, if the return rate is low, a single-use system with open loop recycling is preferable when modelled with a cut-off approach. When modelled with a system expansion approach, a single-use system with incineration is preferred for a majority of indicators (all impact categories except GWP, Ecotoxterretrial, and Resourcefossil).

For all impact categories however, these results highlight the importance of the collection stage leading to proper waste handling, which has so far been simplified or overlooked in previous LCA studies. For reducing the environmental impacts related to the serving of beers, festivals are advised to measure and limit their waste, to get an overview of the flows of the cups after use, and to have good collection systems for handling the cups as intended.

Data Availability

The used data not presented in the paper is available from the authors upon request.

Code Availability

Not applicable.

References

  1. Hanke G (2016) Marine Beach Litter in Europe – Top Items A short draft summary. In: REPORTS, J. R. C. T. (ed.).

  2. UNEP (2021) Single-use beverage cups and their alternatives - recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments

  3. Joint Research Centre (2016) Harm caused by Marine Litter

  4. Kleiva Møller I, Comtet M, Rugaas MH (2019) Gjenbruksglass på festival - fra bruk og kast til bruk og vask. . In: PROSJEKTOPPGAVE (ed.). Handelshøyskolen BI

  5. Coelho PM, Corona B, Ten Klooster R, Worrell E (2020) Sustainability of reusable packaging–Current situation and trends. Resources, Conservation & Recycling: X, 6

  6. Mahmoudi M, Parviziomran I (2020) Reusable packaging in supply chains: a review of environmental and economic impacts, logistics system designs, and operations management. Int J Prod Econ, 228

  7. Amienyo D, Azapagic A (2016) Life cycle environmental impacts and costs of beer production and consumption in the UK. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21:492–509

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Amienyo D, Gujba H, Stichnothe H, Azapagic A (2012) Life cycle environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18:77–92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Pasqualino J, Meneses M, Castells F (2011) The carbon footprint and energy consumption of beverage packaging selection and disposal. J Food Eng 103:357–365

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Simon B, Amor MB, Földényi R (2016) Life cycle impact assessment of beverage packaging systems: focus on the collection of post-consumer bottles. J Clean Prod 112:238–248

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Van Der Harst E, Potting J (2013) A critical comparison of ten disposable cup LCAs. Environ Impact Assess Rev 43:86–96

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Van Der Harst E, Potting J, Kroeze C (2014) Multiple data sets and modelling choices in a comparative LCA of disposable beverage cups. Sci Total Environ 494–495:129–143

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Almeida J, Bengtsson E (2018) Reusable coffee cups life cycle assessment and benchmark.

  14. CUPCLUB (2018) Join the reusable revolution: CupClub Sustainability Report 2018 A comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of 12oz CupClub cup and lid

  15. Foteinis S (2020) How small daily choices play a huge role in climate change: the disposable paper cup environmental bane. J Clean Prod, 255

  16. VTT (2019) Taking a closer look at paper cups for coffee

  17. Woods L, Bakshi BR (2014) Reusable vs. disposable cups revisited: guidance in life cycle comparisons addressing scenario, model, and parameter uncertainties for the US consumer. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19:931–940

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Changwichan K, Gheewala SH (2020) Choice of materials for takeaway beverage cups towards a circular economy. Sustain Prod Consum 22:34–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Vercalsteren A, Spirinckx C, Geerken T (2010) Life cycle assessment and eco-efficiency analysis of drinking cups used at public events. Int J Life Cycle Assess 15:221–230

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Garrido N, Alvarez Del Castillo MD (2007) Environmental evaluation of single-use and reusable cups. Int J Life Cycle Assess 12:252–256

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Potting J, Van Der Harst E (2015) Facility arrangements and the environmental performance of disposable and reusable cups. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20:1143–1154

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Cottafava D, Costamagna M, Baricco M, Corazza L, Miceli D, Riccardo LE (2021) Assessment of the environmental break-even point for deposit return systems through an LCA analysis of single-use and reusable cups. Sustain Prod Consum 27:228–241

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Tua C, Biganzoli L, Grosso M, Rigamonti L (2019) Life cycle assessment of reusable plastic crates (RPCs). Resources, 8

  24. Huijbregts MAJ, Steinmann ZJN, Elshout PMF, Stam G, Verones F, Vieira M, Zijp M, Hollander A, Van Zelm R (2017) ReCiPe2016: a harmonised life cycle impact assessment method at midpoint and endpoint level. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22:138–147

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. ISO (2006a) ISO 14040:2006 Environmental management -- Life cycle assessment -- Principles and framework

  26. ISO (2006b) ISO 14044:2006 Environmental Magament - Life Cycle Assessment - Requirements and guidelines. International Standardisation Organisation

  27. Lyng KA, De Sadeleer I (2021) Environmental assessment of beer serving on festivals (in Norwegian only). NORSUS Norwegian Institute for Sustainability Research

  28. Allacker K, Mathieux F, Pennington D, Pant R (2017) The search for an appropriate end-of-life formula for the purpose of the European Commission Environmental Footprint initiative. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22:1441–1458

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Bergsma G, Sevenster M (2013) End-of-life best approach for allocating recycling benefits in LCAs of metal packaging.

  30. Ekvall T, Björklund A, Sandin G, Jelse K (2020) Modeling recycling in life cycle assessment. Swedish Life Cycle Center, Chalmers University of Technology Report no 2020.xx (DRAFT May 2020)

  31. Gala AB, Raugei M, Fullana-I-Palmer P (2015) Introducing a new method for calculating the environmental credits of end-of-life material recovery in attributional LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20:645–654

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Green Dot Norway (2021) https://www.grontpunkt.no/gjenvinning/plastemballasje-fra-husholdninger/. Accessed 2021

  33. Syversen F, Lyng KA, Amland E, Bjørnerud S, Callewaert P, Prestrud K (2018) Utsortering og materialgjenvinning av biologisk avfall og plastavfall. https://www.miljodirektoratet.no/globalassets/publikasjoner/M1114/M1114.pdf. Accessed December 2020

  34. Raadal HL, Modahl IS, Iversen OM (2017) Comparison of recycling and incineration of aluminium cans. Ostfold Research, OR.07.17. https://norsus.no/wp-content/uploads/or-07-17-alu_final_201017.pdf. Accessed December 2020

  35. Civancik-Uslu D, Puig R, Ferrer L, Fullana-I-Palmer P (2019) Influence of end-of-life allocation, credits and other methodological issues in LCA of compounds: An in-company circular economy case study on packaging. J Clean Prod 212:925–940

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. European Commission, PEFCR Guidance document, - Guidance for the development of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs), version 6.3, December 2017. https://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/smgp/pdf/PEFCR_guidance_v6.3.pdf. Accessed March 2021

  37. Infinitum (2019) Vil øke andelen resirkulert plast fra 10 til 80 prosent [Online]. Available: https://infinitummovement.no/sirkulaeravgift-resirkulert-plast-i-flasker/ [Accessed 01.10 2020].

  38. Wernet G, Bauer C, Steubing B, Reinhard J, Moreno-Ruiz E, Weidema B (2016) The ecoinvent database version 3 (part I): overview and methodology. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21:1218–1230

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Øyafestivalen for valuable information and Ola Haug and Anders Løland at the Norwegian Computing Centre for review and input regarding calculation of trip rates and number of reuse cups necessary to fulfil the functional unit.

Funding

The data for the alternatives assessed in this paper is based on a study which was commissioned by Øyafestivalen and funded by Handelens Miljøfond (the Norwegian Retailers’ Environmental Fund). The results from the first study were published in a report written in Norwegian only. The background data and the analysis have been developed further for the purpose of this publication.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

The paper is a common work of the authors that jointly conceptualised, planned and revised the text.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Irmeline de Sadeleer.

Ethics declarations

Ethics Approval

Not applicable.

Consent to Participate

Not applicable.

Consent for Publication

All figures were created by the authors and are aligned with a consent for publication.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (DOCX 1359 KB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

de Sadeleer, I., Lyng, KA. A Life Cycle Assessment on Single-Use and Reuse Beer Cups at Festivals. Circ.Econ.Sust. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43615-022-00164-y

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s43615-022-00164-y

Keywords

  • LCA
  • Beer cups
  • Single-use system
  • Reuse systems
  • Open loop and closed loop recycling
  • Trip rates