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Finance & Innovation

McDonald’s Is Bringing Sustainable Packaging to All 37,000 Locations

If you drive past a yellow McDonald’s arch, you might see the words “billions and billions served” or “more than 99 billion served.”

Those slogans are a testament to the brand’s ubiquity and popularity, but that sort of scale comes at a cost. All of the Happy Meals and McNuggets and Big Macs sold to more than 69 million people every day have had a Super Sized impact on the global environment.

Take Action: Call on the EU to Halve Food Waste by 2030

Now the brand wants to address one of the ways it harms the planet and, in the process, try to spur much broader change.

By 2025, McDonald’s wants to source all of its “guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources, with a preference for Forest Stewardship Council certification for fiber,” according to a Medium post written by Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer.

The company will also introduce recycling in all of its more than 37,000 locations during this period with the goal of making it so all packaging provided to consumers can be recycled and reused.

Read More: 9 Brilliant Ways the UK Is Cracking Down on Plastic Pollution

To do this, the brand is “reimagining our packaging as a resource instead of eventual trash.”

The company makes some lofty claims in its announcement:

“By acting now and boldly, we hope to lead the industry and our customers toward a more sustainable future and fuel a movement to address waste as a global community,” DeBiase writes.

“By leveraging our scale and reach, we hope to drive capacity in the recycling sector, innovation in responsible package design, and environmental awareness among millions of customers and restaurant employees each day,” she added.

In the past, McDonald’s has been criticized for its staggering environmental footprint. Among other things, the company consumes vast amounts of agricultural goods and livestock for its food menu, has a transportation-heavy supply chain, and produces enormous waste around the world. Overall, the brand is responsible for substantial greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and pollution, according to various analyses.

The company acknowledges how challenging its latest efforts will be, especially because recycling and sourcing standards vary region to region and McDonald’s is active in more than 100 countries.

Virtually all of the brand’s packaging will have to be redesigned in the years to come so that items use less material and are optimal for recycling, the article notes. Currently, many of the brand’s paper products are made more durable by adding plastic, but this, in turn, makes them more difficult to recycle.

Read More: Plastic Production Is Set to Increase by 40% Over the Next Decade, Experts Say

McDonald’s has worked with environmental groups in the past to incorporate better sourcing standards and to cut down on waste, according to the Medium post.

For example, the brand managed to eliminate 300 million pounds of material from its supply chain 25 years ago with the help of the Environmental Defense Fund and reduced its overall waste by 30% the following decade.

But this latest announcement is the company’s most comprehensive campaign to date.

The urgency of the matter is not lost on the brand.

The Medium post opens with the startling fact that solid waste around the world is expected to increase 70% by 2025 compared to 2010 levels.

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This increase will further exacerbate climate change through the natural release of greenhouse gas emissions, the fossil fuel demands for storage and transportation, and  deforestation, among other consequences.  

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for responsible corporate stewardship of the environment. You can take action on this issue here.

McDonald’s joins a range of other brands that are addressing their environmental footprints by reducing waste and eliminating packaging.

For instance, consumer goods brands like Ikea and HP have taken action to make packaging more sustainable, and fast food companies like Starbucks have invested in more sustainable cups.

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In isolation, McDonald’s announcement will only minimally affect the global problem of inefficient waste management. But the brand hopes to work with partners across the private and public sector to bring about longer-lasting change. 

And packaging waste isn’t the brand’s only waste problem. As millions of orders of food are served up daily, there’s also a lot of food waste.

If the company tries to tackle this issue next, it won’t have to look very far for help. Chefs, supermarkets, and restaurants across the world are already heavily involved in this effort.