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McDonald’s moving ahead to develop sustainable packaging
McDonald’s is moving ahead to adopt innovative sustainable packaging solutions like reusable to-go cups, driving circular solutions. The company seeks to source 100% of its guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.
McDonald’s packaging and recycling efforts support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, in particular Goal 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production, Goal 14 on Life Below Water, and Goal 17 on Partnerships for the Goals.
Innovative packaging solutions:
McDonald’s is testing a range of new materials and designs in its restaurants around the world.
It has given its McFlurry ice-cream packaging a makeover, eliminating the need for a separate plastic lid. The initiative has been implemented in Australia, New Zealand, India and most markets in Asia Pacific and Europe. In Europe alone, this change will save more than 1,200 metric tons of plastic per year.
In several markets across Europe and in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, India and Taiwan, it has also introduced a paper-based cup for shakes, moving away from the traditional plastic cups.
McDonald’s has also introduced a strawless fiber lid across France, thus replacing both the plastic lid and the need for a straw. It is encouraged by successful tests of this lid and while there are some obstacles to overcome, such as consumer acceptance of drinking from a new, less familiar material, the strawless lid could save 1,200 metric tons of plastic per year in France alone.
In China, McDonald’s has begun to phase out plastic straws for cold drinks in around 1,000 restaurants across Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. By introducing a new lid that customers can drink from directly, the move is expected to reduce 400 metric tons of plastic waste per year.
Additionally, in Latin America, as part of its strategy to reduce plastic consumption across the 20 markets in which it operates, our Franchisee, Arcos Dorados, has removed all lids and straws from cold drinks for dine-in customers.
In 2020, McDonald’s announced a global partnership with TerraCycle’s circular packaging service, Loop, to test a new reusable cup model for hot beverages. The initiative, which will first be trialed in 2021 across select McDonald’s restaurants in the UK, will help customers enjoy their favorite McDonald’s hot drink in a reusable cup, cutting down on packaging waste.
This new partnership will allow customers to reduce waste by choosing a durable Loop-created cup, for a small deposit. The deposit can then be redeemed by returning the cup to participating restaurants in order to be safely sanitized through the Loop system and reused again in McDonald’s restaurants.
Similarly, McDonald’s Germany is currently piloting a program called ReCup, where customers can ask for a reusable coffee cup and return it at partnering McDonald’s restaurant or other participating restaurants to be cleaned and reused. It also has reusables in store in the Philippines, and is trialing schemes in several other markets too.
McDonald’s is testing alternatives to plastic cutlery in several markets, including transitioning to wooden cutlery in Australia. In Europe, trials are being conducted for wooden and paper alternatives to its McFlurry spoons, in a bid to find the material that meets customer preferences, operational functionality and sustainability.
In France, it has transitioned its knives, forks and spoons to wood. These changes, paired with innovations in the packaging of milkshakes, salads and straws, will allow its restaurants in France to reduce plastic packaging by more than 2,600 metric tons.
McDonald’s Taiwan is gradually switching plastic packaging and cutlery to paper and wood and optimizing packaging design to reduce waste.
McDonald’s Canada, meanwhile, has switched to napkins that are 20% smaller and produced with 100% recycled fiber. Across several markets in Latin America, Arcos Dorados has lightweighted spoons and replaced plastic packaging such as salad plates with non-plastic alternatives.
By switching to fiber wraps instead of card boxes, McDonald’s Netherlands has saved 250 metric tons of packaging, while in China, McDonald’s has optimized the size of its cutlery and reduced the amount of plastic it uses by about 10%.
It also has several packaging initiatives in test phases in the US, designed to reduce materials currently used to produce a range of products, such as sandwich clamshells and wraps, napkins, McCafé hot and cold cups, and plastic car cups.
McDonald’s is testing coffee cup recycling schemes to find the best ways to scale up recycling and create quality recycled material. In the UK, for example, its paper cups are sent to specialist recycling centers, where the plastic is removed and the fiber is used to make new products.
In 2018, McDonald’s U.S. joined forces with Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners as a convening member of the NextGen Consortium, a multi-year consortium that aims to address single-use food packaging waste globally. NextGen Cup is the first initiative by the NextGen Consortium, which aims to advance recoverable solutions for the fiber, hot and cold, to-go cup system. The NextGen Cup Challenge identified 12 innovative solutions for single-use cups that are functional to a high standard, minimize and streamline material use, and encourage wide recoverability.
In 2020, the NextGen Consortium launched reusable cup pilots in local cafes in the Californian cities of San Francisco and Palo Alto. The aim is for live piloting to allow the potential reusable cup systems to benefit from real-world feedback and to further test, learn and innovate. The pilots will also provide valuable insights into each cup’s feasibility, viability, desirability and circular resiliency.
McDonald’s Happy Meals to cut plastic waste:
McDonald’s has a global working group exploring the development and production of more sustainable Happy Meal toys, and markets around the world are currently testing different options.
In March 2020, McDonald’s U.K. & Ireland pledged to remove nonrecycled and nonrenewable hard plastic from its iconic Happy Meal toys. From 2021, every Happy Meal will include either a soft toy, paper-based toy or a book.
In France, it has replaced some of its plastic Happy Meal toys with ones made from paper, such as coloring books and trading cards.
In 2018, McDonald’s Japan initiated a toy recycling program with the Japanese Ministry of the Environment to collect plastic Happy Meal toys and convert them into restaurant serving trays. As part of this program, McDonald’s Japan collected around 1.27 million used plastic toys that were turned into over 165,000 trays in its initial year. In 2019, we expanded the program and collected 3.4 million used plastic toys.