When most people think of McDonald’s they likely think of quality food, good value and consistently reliable convenient service. But I hope they also think about our values.
At McDonald’s, we care deeply about our impact on the world. Our purpose is to feed and foster local communities. We are always striving to use our influence and scale to make a positive impact on the planet and in the communities we serve across Europe and globally. We are on a journey to help implement and accelerate solutions to keep waste out of nature and valuable materials in use.
During my trip to Europe, I’ve seen some of these solutions in action. While in Brussels I had the opportunity to visit one of our restaurants at the forefront of advancing our circularity goals. McDonald’s is the first major partner of a pioneering initiative ‘The Cup Collective’. It is a great project by Stora Enso and Huhtamaki to collect cardboard beverage and ice cream cups in and around our restaurants and recycle them on an industrial scale into paper fiber. At our busy restaurant in Brussels-North station, I saw the initiative firsthand. This is a fantastic example of several stakeholders working together to solve a problem through their expertise and innovation.
I know policymakers across the EU are trying to solve many of the greatest challenges we face today, including Europe’s growing packaging waste problem, and we at McDonald’s fully support this, as the example above demonstrates. The problem is, history itself is littered with examples of the unintended consequences of well-meaning policies and laws. I believe the current Packaging and Packaging Waste proposal by the EU is one such regulation. By focusing solely on reusable packaging, we at McDonald’s and many of our partners and competitors in the informal dining out sector believe that Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) will actually be counterproductive to the overall goals of the Green Deal. And we support the goals of the Green Deal, which is why this concerns us.
The informal eating-out sector is particularly complex and is not well understood. We feel the impact study the EU commissioned ahead of the PPWR proposal did not necessarily reflect that as much as it could have. We want such important decisions to be based on science, facts, and evidence, which is why we commissioned a report with the global management consultancy Kearney to assess environmental, economic, hygiene and affordability impacts of various packaging solutions. As a result of this, we firmly believe the proposal will be damaging not only for the environment, but also for the economy, food safety and for consumers.
Of course, the idea of reusing something over and over again as opposed to only once seems like the obvious solution — but it’s more complicated than that. For reuse models to have a positive impact on the environment, consumers need to return the reusables. A reusable cup needs to be returned and reused 50 to 100 times — whether for takeaway or dine-in — to make it environmentally preferable to a single-use paper cup.
Reusables by their very nature also need to be washed every time they’re used. For an industry like ours, serving millions of customers every day, that requires significant energy and water. Europe’s water infrastructure is already under stress, and the Kearney study shows reusable packaging requirements for dine-in restaurants would increase water use — and could require up to 4 billion liters of additional water each year. Washing also requires more energy resulting in increased greenhouse emissions. The study shows that a shift to 100 percent reusable packaging by 2030 would increase greenhouse emissions by up to 50 percent for dine-in and up to 260 percent for takeaway. They also require specialist washing to ensure they meet hygiene standards.
When it comes to plastics we are particularly concerned. McDonald’s has made huge progress when it comes to reducing plastic in our supply chain and restaurants. In the European Union, more than 90 percent of our packaging is locally sourced, primarily from European paper packaging suppliers. We are shifting packaging materials to more sustainable alternatives to ensure easier recovery and recycling. 92.8 percent (by weight) of McDonald’s food packaging in Europe is wood fiber and 99.4 percent of that fiber packaging comes from recycled or certified sources.
Worryingly though, the study we commissioned says that reuse models will lead to a sharp increase in plastic materials in Europe.Reuse targets proposed in the PPWR will create four times the amount of plastic packaging waste for dine-in, and 16 times for takeaway. That’s a lot more plastic instead of recyclable paper and cardboard and is the opposite of what the EU wants to achieve.
So, what should be done? Given that Kearney’s data shows recyclable, fiber-based packaging has the greater potential to benefit the environment, economy, food safety and consumers, we believe the EU should pause and conduct a full impact study before moving ahead. The European Commission’s current impact assessment lacks depth and does not consider economic and food safety aspects. Member countries should not unilaterally introduce legislation before this has been assessed to avoid fragmentation of the single market.
In dine in and takeaway, we are looking for equivalence of treatment between recycled and recyclable (paper based) single use packaging and reusable tableware. Any legislation should take into account the specific needs of complex business sectors, and the right packaging solutions.
A rush to a solution for a complicated situation will only make the problem worse. I hope that the report McDonald’s commissioned and launched with Kearney will stimulate the policy debate about the mix of solutions needed. Europe has a proud history of collaboration and pragmatism when it comes to solving important problems and challenges, and I am confident we can draw on that when it comes to this particular issue — because there really is no silver bullet when it comes to solving Europe’s packaging problem.