Fast food is a great business. But of course, with great power, comes a great responsibility. The vastness of this industry requires a lot of packaging. Now, manufacturing and transporting packaging items requires significant natural resources. That includes water, trees, and fossil fuels.
The World Bank estimates 6 million tons of waste production each day by 2025. It’s also predicted that by 2050, oceans will contain more plastics than fish. Some restaurants have begun to go green and removed plastics and/or foam from their retails. These acts may be because governments have decided that it’s time to combat plastic and save Earth.
As a bit of example, Iceland is currently aiming to completely remove the plastic packaging of more than 1,000 brand products within the next five years. Then, UK has made a strict regulation regarding plastic use. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to ban all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.
With all these facts, McDonald’s has decided to contribute to Earth’s welfare. It’s no doubt that this burger giant is one of the most successful and famous fast food brand. They have almost 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries, serving around 69 million people each day. Imagine the amount of wasted packaging that end up in landfills.
Currently, there’s only about 10% of McDonald’s restaurant which recycle their packaging. But this will change. A 2014 company study found that two restaurants’ average waste production was more than 2,200 pounds in a week. But this staggering fact will change.
Previously, the company planned to stop using foam cups by the end of 2018. They also announced that their paper wrappers, fry cartons, and paper cups would come from recycled or certified sources where there are no deforestation occurs by 2020. McDonald’s “only” use 2% foam in their packaging, but they believe that eliminating this is a small but important step in their journey.
The company is aware that their customers’ number one concern is the environmental impact of the restaurant’s packaging and waste. So now, the fast food giant have announced that they will recycle packaging in all of their restaurants globally by 2025. Remembering the numbers mentioned before, this decision is going to bring a significant effect on the planet.
In their website, McDonald’s stated, “We are transitioning from our previous waste goals in favor of more progressive packaging, recycling, and sustainability goals to amplify our positive impact on the planet,”
“We are revamping our previous aspirational goal of recycling 50% of in-restaurant waste by 2020 to a broader goal to recycle guest packaging in 100% of McDonald’s restaurants. Our goals reflect insights from the last several years of our recycling journey and our commitment to using our scale for good.”
Reaching this goal and promise will take time and coordination in communities around the world. “We can’t do this alone. We’re going to work with our suppliers, franchisees, and other industry leaders to effect change at the local level,” said McDonald’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer, Francesca DeBiase.
With thousands of restaurants stretching in a lot of countries, achieving the goal is a challenge. McDonald’s has to work with different governments and recycling infrastructures all over the world. Then, the introduction of recycling option in all locations is going to be difficult too. Local regulations differ, and some regions lack the necessary recycling infrastructure.
“Working with different municipalities to put the infrastructure in place is going to be the most complex piece of work that we do,” DeBiase said.
Environmental groups such as World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) very much welcome and even praise the company’s plan. Erin Simon, the director of sustainability research and development for WWF stated that other food companies have promised to use more recyclable material for years, but he found that McDonald’s plan is more substantive and collaborative.
EDF has partnered with the company and it spans to more than 25 years. The group has offered advice on improving packaging and animal welfare standards. Interestingly, the group is not paid by the fast food brand, but they’re still willing. “McDonald’s has set ambitious goals before and met them. I’m optimistic,” said Elizabeth Strucken, the managing director of the group’s corporate partnership program.
McDonald’s plan can pressure and urge other big companies to take the same action. “As the world’s largest restaurant company, we have the opportunity–and frankly responsibility–to use our scale for good,” said DeBiase. Sturcken said that companies that take environmental sustainability seriously can help employee engagement, reduce business risks, and provide good public relation. Maybe we’ll see this kind of effect soon enough.
Before this go-green movement, McDonald’s has had a sustainable packaging journey for 25 years. The company and EDF partnered and significantly reduced environmental impact by eliminating more than 300 million pounds of packaging, recycling 1 million tons of corrugated boxes, and reducing waste by 30% within a decade.
“Nearly three decades ago, McDonald’s and EDF teamed up to tackle solid waste and accelerate innovation in packaging. Along the way, we pioneered a new partnership model for companies and nonprofit organizations. Today, McDonald’s continues to raise the sustainability bar by setting ambitious goals and collaborating with partners across the value chain for maximum impact,” said Tom Murray, vice president of EDF+Business.
McDonald’s plan is admirable. They’re not only taking actions to make the environment safer, but they’re also listening to their customers’ top environmental concern. This shows that the company really cares about their customers, don’t hesitate to plan ambitious yet doable actions, and they’re not afraid to be an agent of change.
Let’s be hopeful that other companies will slowly put environment in their top lists. It’s likely that when a giant does something of a breakthrough, then others will feel the pressure to do the same or they’ll lose the market competition. We’ve yet to see it happen, but in the meantime, we should all try our best to care for our mother Earth.