A sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nostril. An albatross killed by ingesting mouthfuls of plastic. A beach covered in plastic rather than sand. While it’s easy to recall these unfortunately iconic images, finding solutions to reduce such waste and pollution is much more difficult. However, one surprising corporation is making great strides in minimising its waste production and hopes to spark widespread change among other companies and prevent further harm to animals and the environment.
On January 16th, 2018, McDonald’s released an updated press report outlining its new sustainable packaging goals for the next 8 years. Expanding upon those set in 2016, McDonald’s now aim to significantly reduce packaging waste across their restaurants worldwide.
Twenty-seven years ago, in an effort to increase their use of sustainable materials, McDonald’s partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund; a non-profit environmental advocacy group. This partnership helped McDonald’s eliminate 300-million lbs of packaging, equivalent to the weight of 800 blue whales, and recycle 1 million tonnes of corrugated boxes, (or the weight of 5,300 blue whales). Although these were important first steps, environmentalists continued to put pressure on McDonald’s to eliminate their use of foam which makes up 2 percent of packaging. This led to the production of the 2016 sustainability report that stated McDonald’s would phase out all foam packaging by the end of 2018.
Complementing the 2016 report, McDonald’s recently announced that by 2020, 100 percent of their fibre-based packaging will come from recycled or certified sources (certification indicating that the products come from well-managed forests). Every one of McDonald’s 37,000 restaurants will have recycling bins for guests by 2025 and 100 percent of guest packaging will be obtained from renewable, recycled, or certified sources, also by 2025. Currently, only 50 percent of McDonald’s packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources and only 64 percent of fibre-based packaging comes from certified or recycled sources. This means that McDonald’s has a lot of work to do over these next 8 years to achieve their sustainability targets. To do so, McDonald’s will employ the help of industry experts, local governments, and environmental organisations to implement smarter packaging designs, new recycling programs, and programs to educate both workers and consumers.
The significance of these packaging changes is monumental due to the size and reach of the company McDonald’s has 37,000 restaurants in over 100 countries, where less than 50% of waste gets recycled. Francesca DeBiase, Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer of McDonald’s notes, “As the world’s largest restaurant company, we have a responsibility to use our scale for good to make changes that will have a meaningful impact across the globe”. Other companies should look to McDonald’s as an example of how to drastically decrease their impact on the planet by eliminating packaging waste.
You, as a consumer, can also model McDonald’s sustainable ways to prevent pollution from further damaging the planet. Next time you go to a restaurant like McDonald’s, look out for the eco-friendly packaging and utilize the recycling bins!
This article was written by Erin Deasy and edited by Sam Stanfield.