This may be more of an academic question and less of practical relevance but I hope to have some input from this site nevertheless.

In my opinion, multi-use products are always more sustainable than single-use products if viewed holistically (not just single impact categories like water use or CO2 emissions).

Sometimes when I say this, this is debated and people might say "Yes, but it's no use to transport empty deposit return bottles back to the producer if the factory is hundreds of kms away". Which probably is more of an issue of designing a product so that several producers can accept it rather than a flaw of deposit return packaging in general.

So, are there any single-use products that really are more sustainable compared to multi-use products with the same function, ignoring potential flaws in the multi-use system (like absurdly long transport distances)? And what are the biggest flaws affecting sustainability of multi-use products? For example, not-using them frequently enough and therefore a single-use product may be more beneficial?

  • 1
    Two things come to mind; 1) ceramic mugs have a high impact from production phase, so if they have a short life because they break, or if they are washed often with lots of hot water then their impact will be higher than that of a plastic cup (see also sustainability.stackexchange.com/q/5173/99) 2) canvas bags also have a large impact from manufacturing, so also need to be reused a lot before their life-time impact is lower than a plastic bag (see sustainability.stackexchange.com/q/5840/99). But if used properly both should still have a lower impact.
    – THelper
    Aug 27, 2020 at 8:16
  • Thank you, so this relates to not using multi-use products often enough or high costs in being able to use a reusable product again. I'd be happy if you make this an answer.
    – Stockfisch
    Aug 27, 2020 at 9:54

1 Answer 1


Look at multi-use glass bins (yoghurt, milk, etc.): They have to be cleaned very well, that means a lot of energy and chemical pressure. Transportation even for short distances count, you can´t put this away. And bins always need a brand new cap (because old ones rust and the plastic layer inside can´t be cleaned sufficiently). And last but not least: Even a glass bin can be reused only a few times, because the glass gets easily scratched and milky-intransparent. Customers want new, shiny looking products and glass is not looking new in a very short amount of time. So a single-use plastic bin CAN (but must not) be much more sustainable than it´s multi-use glass counterpart. Things are often more complicated, than told to the public.

  • Can always needing a new cap be an argument, seeing the exact same thing is true for any single-use bin as well? Perhaps because of the material used? Besides there are glass bottles which don't use the caps you talk about but reusable ones (don't know the names, similar to weck jars). Anyway: even though I think you're probably right, without actually running any numbers at all to support the claim ('a lot' of energy, reused only 'a few' times) I'm not sure this really provides the answer the OP is looking for?
    – stijn
    Aug 28, 2020 at 7:45
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    Welcome to Sustainable Living! Do you have any references that provide evidence that glass containers are less sustainable?
    – THelper
    Aug 28, 2020 at 8:58

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