While I don't eat at McDonald's very often anymore (the few times I eat a burger in any given year, my place of choice is In-N-Out), I have unwrapped plenty of Quarter Pounders with Cheese, Egg McMuffins, and other delectable McTreats in my time.
McDonald's sells a tremendous amount of food each year in the U.S. alone -- by some estimates, more than 1 billion pounds of beef (from 5-1/2 million head of cattle) and more than 500 million cups of coffee. Globally, the company buys 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes every year, and serves more than 9 million pounds of french fries every day.
Of course, all of this food comes along with something else -- the paper, foam, polystyrene, and other wrapping and containers that it's packed in. In fact, it is estimated that McDonald's uses almost 1.5 million tons of packaging worldwide every year, and that only about 50 percent of this packaging comes from recycled, renewable, or certified materials. Further, only 10 percent of McDonald's restaurants offer bins for customers to recycle their trash.
However, that's all about to change.
McDonald's just announced that, by 2025 -- less than 10 years from now -- 100 percent of guest packaging (those wrappers, cups, and other packaging) will come from renewable, recycled, or certified sources. In addition, the company set a goal to recycle guest packaging in 100 percent of McDonald's restaurants by 2025, and to rid all its restaurants worldwide of foam packaging by the end of 2018.
But, why the focus on packaging? Said Francesca DeBiase, an executive at McDonalds, in a statement,
"Our customers have told us that packaging waste is the top environmental issue they would like us to address. Our ambition is to make changes our customers want and to use less packaging, sourced responsibly and designed to be taken care of after use."
When McDonald's talks, its competition listens. As a result, it's expected that other fast-food restaurants will follow the company's example -- setting their own ambitious goals for packaging. Says Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow, a nonprofit that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility,
"This sends an important message to other quick service food companies who may still be using foam. We also hope McDonald's will next turn its attention to other single use items like plastic straws and cup lids that pose hazards to marine animals and add to the tsunami of plastic waste afflicting world oceans."
McDonald's commitment to going green is a sea change for an industry that has long put its focus elsewhere, and it will have a significant on the communities in which it operates, and the world as a whole. According to a company spokesperson,
“With our size and reach we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference for our planet, and this decision is a significant step in our journey to be a better McDonald’s and positively impact the communities we serve.”