McDonald's Isn't So Sure About Replacing Paper Food Packaging with Plastic
We're all sort of coming around to the idea of reusable packaging at fast food restaurants. Burger King has been trying it out across the world, with France enacting legislation that outlaws single-use products forcing McDonald's to join in with plastic packaging; and Starbucks has been testing cup saving programs.
McDonald's in France comes in reusable packaging, neat pic.twitter.com/0gmCjNnuhu
— Alex (@AlexOnchain) May 13, 2023
McDonald's, being Burger King's biggest competition and also nearly synonymous with fast food itself, is naturally weighing the possibility of switching from its paper packaging to plastic reusable packaging in the U.S. now.
In 2018, McDonald's announced that 100% of its restaurants would use recycled or renewable packaging by the end of 2025 following the initial shift away from styrofoam in favor of paper. Now certain shareholder activists are putting the pressure on to explore plastic reusable packaging.
Last month, according to CNBC, McDonald's released a report with the headline "No silver bullet" that detailed why reusables "may be too expensive to be a sole solution," citing kitchen and infrastructure changes like dishwashing, rising in energy and water cost, and the upfront cost of the products.
"In some circumstances, plastic is the right option to keep things safe and properly contained, let alone making sure that the food you love is tasty and the experience is what you are hoping it would be," a McDonald's spokesperson told CNBC. "In a climate where it seems that there needs to be an all-or-nothing approach, what's been missed in reporting on reusables to date is just the actual open scale of it."
McDonald's listed other concerns like the possibility of microbiological growth and accumulation when the plastic is scratched, or even chemicals that can come from color coatings.
However, those in favor of the switch are optimistic that reusable packaging is the future of fast food. Kelly McBee, circular economy senior coordinator at as You Sow, told CNBC that evidence shows reusable packaging will allow businesses to save money in the long run by saving money that would otherwise be spent on disposable products.
It's the idea of buying a more expensive product that will ostensibly last longer than repeatedly purchasing cheaper products.
Across the street at Burger King, the initial pilot program for reusable packaging is over, so McDonald's is likely also waiting to see where its rival lands.
Burger King trying reusable packaging for burgers, sides and drinks pic.twitter.com/VtdbItBGTI
— The Five-Minute Break (@The5MinuteBreak) April 28, 2022
"The pilot program has now concluded, and we are using key learnings about guest adoption and operational effectiveness in identifying long-term solutions for reusables," a Restaurant Brands International spokesperson told CNBC.
Basically, McDonald's has been putting in place environmental packaging techniques for decades now, and will continue to do so. Whether that means they ditch paper in the U.S. in favor of plastic reusables remains to be seen. Even though Burger King sure seemed like they were heading in that direction, it seems like they want to regroup and crunch the numbers themselves.
So, for now, paper is still the standard here in the U.S. But, as we've seen with things like charging cables, sometimes the EU is ahead of us, so don't be surprised if reusable plastic packaging replaces paper in the near future.
Brendan Menapace is the senior digital editor for Promo Marketing. While writing and editing stories come naturally to him, writing his own bio does not.