McDonald’s and Waitrose lead business charge against plastic waste

Fast food giant McDonald's and UK retailer Waitrose are the latest companies to publicly announce plans to tackle the growing issue of plastic waste, with McDonald's setting a 2025 commitment to boost the recyclability of its packaging and Waitrose reaffirming its packaging commitments that it made in 2017.

McDonald’s has announced that by 2025, 100% of its guest packaging will come from recycled, renewable or certified sources – the preference being Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified – while also aiming to recycle 100% of restaurant packaging.

“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,” McDonald’s sustainability officer Francesca DeBiase said.

“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, working at and beyond our restaurants to increase recycling and help create cleaner communities.”

Currently, 50% of McDonald’s customer packaging comes from the preferred sources, and 64% of fibre-based packing comes from certified or recycled sources. However, it is estimated that just 10% of McDonald’s restaurants are recycling customer packaging globally.

The company noted that recycling infrastructure and regulations often vary by nation, but plans to “be part of the solution and help influence powerful change”.

Last straw for Waitrose

In a similar move, Waitrose has announced that it will stop selling packs of plastic straws at all supermarkets by September 2018. The announcement builds on the retailer’s commitment to make all own-label packing, which includes plastic food trays, widely recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2025.

Waitrose’ head of sustainability Tor Harris said: ‘‘Phasing out packs of single use straws shows how seriously we are taking the challenge of reducing our impact on the environment.

‘‘While removing packs of straws from sale seems a small step, the impact on the environment all adds up. Instead of selling packs of plastic straws, Waitrose is working on sourcing paper equivalents.”

Since 2009, Waitrose has reduced overall packaging by almost 50%, while 80% of its packaging is considered widely recyclable and fitted with the appropriate logo. In 2016, Waitrose became the first retailer to stop selling any product that contained microbeads – which were subsequently banned in the UK earlier this month.

The two companies join retailer Iceland in committing to tackle the growing issues of plastic waste, which accounts for 95% of the rubbish in our oceans. Iceland’s pledge goes one step further, committing to become the world’s first major retailer to remove plastic packaging from its own brand products by 2023.

Commenting on the McDonald’s announcement, Friends of the Earth’s waste campaigner Julian Kirby added: “McDonald’s aim to reduce the impact of its packaging by 2025, including plastic, is welcome news – although speedier action in some countries, such as the UK, is surely possible.

“And with retailers such as Iceland’s planning to freeze out plastics from its own brand products in five years’ time, the government’s aim to ditch avoidable plastic within a quarter of a century looks extremely meagre.

Specifically, Kirby noted that “Theresa May is in danger of being out greened by Ronald McDonald”, regarding action plans to tackle plastic waste.

The war on plastic played a central role in the UK’s 25-year Environment Plan, launched last week. The headline figure was a Government vow to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

Business actions

Since the launch of the plan, various retailers and restaurants have stepped forwards to announce small steps that reduce their reliance on plastic. The world’s largest spirits producer Diageo committed to phasing out the use of all plastic straws and stirrers from its offices, events, promotions, advertising and marketing globally by 2020.

Elsewhere, Pernod Ricard has decided to stop using non-biodegradable plastic straws and stirrers in any part of its business. From Earth Day (22 April) this year, Asian restaurant brand Wagamama will switch to a biodegradable paper alternative for its straws.

Meanwhile, supermarket Morrisons told HuffPost UK that it will phase out plastic drinking straws and cotton bud stems and replace them with paper alternatives. Last week, Tesco published an update to its Little Helps plan, which sets out targets to make all packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025.

These pledges will likely have ramifications across Europe, after the European Commission announced that all plastic packaging placed on the internal market will have to be reusable or easily recyclable by 2030.

Matt Mace

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