Raising the Bar on Packaging and Recycling

At McDonald’s, we’re leading the way on restaurant sustainability in ways you might not expect

By Francesca DeBiase

Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer, McDonald’s Corporation

Garbage, trash, waste. However you refer to it, it’s a serious and rapidly growing problem that threatens the air we breathe and the water we drink. By 2025, the world’s solid waste output is expected to reach 6 million metric tons a day, a 70 percent increase from 2010. All that waste emits significant emissions from the industrial side of waste management.

But what if waste could be an opportunity, instead of a problem?

At McDonald’s, we are working hard to embed sustainability in everything we do and lead meaningful change our customers notice across our industry, our value chain and the communities we serve. Our ambition is to use less packaging, sourced responsibly and designed to be taken care of after use, working at and beyond McDonald’s restaurants to increase recycling and composting and help create cleaner communities.

Our customers care about this, too. They consistently tell us that packaging waste is the #1 environmental issue they would like us to address. Customers want our food to be hot, safe and high quality and of course our packaging plays a big role in that. At the same time, they don’t want it over-engineered and want it to be sourced responsibly.

With 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries serving over 69 million customers daily, McDonald’s has the responsibility and opportunity to use our scale for good. 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.

Today we pledge that by 2025, 100 percent of McDonald’s guest packaging will come from renewable, recycled or certified sources, with a preference for Forest Stewardship Council certification for fiber.

We also announce our goal to recycle guest packaging in 100 percent of McDonald’s restaurants by 2025. We understand that recycling infrastructure, regulations and consumer behaviors vary city to city and country to country, but we plan to be part of the solution and help influence powerful change.

McDonald’s has a vision to help create a new way of thinking about waste and these goals demonstrate the bold moves we are taking to get there. 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.

Progress on packaging

We’re already making progress on our 2025 packaging goal, as this announcement builds on a current goal we’re close to reaching: sourcing 100% of our fiber-based packaging from certified or recycled sources, where no deforestation occurs by 2020. As of 2016, 64 percent of McDonald’s fiber-based packaging globally comes from certified or recycled sources, with several markets at nearly 100 percent. We will launch new initiatives like reimagining our packaging as a resource instead of eventual trash, working toward designs that can be upcycled into new products, and eliminating the costs and environmental impacts of disposal.

McDonald’s has a history of hard work on sustainable packaging, first partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) 25 years ago on an initiative that eliminated more than 300 million pounds of packaging from our system, recycled 1 million tons of corrugated boxes and reduced restaurant waste by 30 percent in the following decade.

McDonald’s later teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund on strong policy to prevent deforestation and protect biodiversity, and with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) on sourcing fiber-based packaging responsibly.

In 2014, the company joined WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network program and set its fiber sourcing targets, including FSC preference for packaging made from wood fiber.

Making it easier to recycle

Even for me as a customer of McDonald’s, I want recycling to be easier and more accessible. But it’s complex right now and the infrastructures that exist for recycling vary around the world. This means that we have to develop different solutions tailored to the different markets where we operate.

For example McDonald’s restaurants in UK offer recycling bins for our customers, and in Germany, our crew members separate the guest packaging for our customers. One of the strengths of the McDonald’s system is that together with our franchisees, we have global reach, and we integrate locally into the communities where we operate. We’re excited to keep learning about what works well for recycling in different geographies and localities, which will help us find solutions in places that are just getting started on this journey.

McDonald’s has made progress on recycling and reducing litter in communities beyond the restaurants, too, introducing programs across 12 of our top 16 markets. In the UK, for example, 78 percent of free-standing McDonald’s restaurants offer recycling at the restaurants, and collectively they’ve also organized over 2,600 litter events, engaging 78,000 colleagues and community members in litter prevention since 2011. Some markets in Europe recycle at nearly all restaurants and separate materials by as many as 8 types.

Together with Keep America Beautiful and similar organizations abroad, we’ve improved access to recycling and decreased littering in thousands of communities globally.

Working together on the path forward

All of us at McDonald’s are encouraged by these successes, but there is much more to do, especially on the recycling front. To drive change and achieve real progress in this sector, we will need to collaborate at scale — engaging with more NGOs, industry experts, policymakers, community leaders and local governments to support improved waste and recycling infrastructure and practices.

We also must band together with our operators and crew members to build awareness, and encourage our customers to join us and become part of the solution.

At McDonald’s, we’re always looking to improve and raise the bar on what it means to be a responsible company committed to people and the planet. We’re confident our actions today will help bring about the change we hope to see and activate the global community in the fight against waste.

Together we’ll turn a problem into an opportunity.

Francesca DeBiase is the Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer for McDonald’s. In her role, she has stressed the importance of embedding sustainability into the way McDonald’s does business around the world.