Thinking circular with more sustainablePackaging and Recycling

Manufacturing and transporting packaging for over 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries requires significant natural resources, including water, trees and fossil fuels. How can we work to ensure the impact on the planet is as small as possible?



Why it matters

By 2025, the World Bank estimates a staggering 6 million tons of waste will be produced each day. What’s more, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and World Economic Forum predict that by 2050, oceans will contain more plastics than fish.

As the world’s largest restaurant company, we have the responsibility and opportunity to take action on some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges in the world. We know that our global supply chain can have a significant impact on the planet. And we’re constantly improving our sourcing, packaging and transportation processes to lessen that footprint. When you operate over 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries serving 69 million people each day, even small changes can make a big difference.

Our customers tell us that their number one environmental concern for us to address is the environmental impact of McDonald’s restaurant packaging and waste. We’re listening.


On this page:

Our approach | Our actions | Our goals and progress


Our approach


The latest steps in this ongoing journey are our 2025 goals to improve our packaging and reduce waste:

  • By 2025, 100% of McDonald’s guest packaging will come from renewable,1 recycled2 or certified3 sources.
  • By 2025, our goal is to recycle guest packaging in 100% of McDonald’s restaurants. We understand that recycling infrastructure, regulations and consumer behaviors vary from city to city and country to country, but we plan to be part of the solution and help influence powerful change.

Together with employees, Franchisees and suppliers, the Company is committing to use our Scale for Good to make changes our customers want and that will have a meaningful impact in the communities we serve. Our vision is nothing less than transformative.

Our sustainable packaging and customer recycling work supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, specifically:

  • Goal 12 – Responsible consumption and production (specifically target 12.5).
  • Goal 14 – Life below water (specifically target 14.1).
  • Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals (specifically target 17.16).

As well as these, we’ve mapped our Scale for Good initiatives to all 17 goals.


Our packaging and recycling journey

Our sustainable packaging journey dates back to 25 years ago when we established a partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). We not only phased out polystyrene sandwich boxes, but also significantly reduced our environmental impact by cutting solid waste and streamlining material choices. The initiative eliminated more than 300 million pounds of packaging, recycled 1 million tons of corrugated boxes and reduced waste by 30% in the decade following the partnership.


“Nearly three decades ago, McDonald’s and EDF teamed up to tackle solid waste and accelerate innovation in packaging. Along the way, we pioneered a new partnership model for companies and nonprofit organizations. Today, McDonald’s continues to raise the sustainability bar by setting ambitious goals and collaborating with partners across the value chain for maximum impact.”

Tom Murray, Vice President of EDF+Business at Environmental Defense Fund

In 2014, the Company set its first global goal to reduce waste and recycle more. The Company joined World Wildlife Fund’s Global Forest & Trade Network program and set its fiber sourcing targets to source all fiber for packaging from recycled or certified sources by 2020.

McDonald’s restaurants across 12 of our top 16 markets have introduced programs and partnerships to reduce litter and increase recycling in their communities. In some communities with recycling infrastructure and local regulations, McDonald’s restaurants offer customer-facing recycling, such as sorting bins, or collect guest waste and sort it for recycling behind the counter. Many of these McDonald’s restaurants offer environmental messages in their lobbies.

As of 2017, 50% of McDonald’s guest packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources. We’ve also made significant progress on fiber-based packaging, which comprises the vast majority of what we use. As of 2017, 70% of McDonald’s fiber-based guest packaging comes from certified or recycled sources.

Now, we’re rethinking our packaging by working with packaging specialists to reduce material volume where possible, and designing packaging to recapture the value of materials through recycling which minimize the costs and environmental impacts associated with its disposal.


Our actions


As we work to achieve our 2025 goals, we’re setting milestones and making progress along the way.

We aim to source 100% of fiber-based packaging from certified or recycled sources by 2020, and as of 2017 we are 70% of the way toward our goal.

As of 2018, all centrally managed guest packaging is fully out of foam. It is a requirement that markets do not use foam for any local guest packaging items. While the majority of our foam was removed years ago, we are proud of this important step that we’ve taken as we raise the bar for our system and our industry.

Additionally, we’re proud that behind the counter, in our kitchens and serving points, crews are recycling used cooking oil and cardboard in up to 85–90% of McDonald’s restaurants.

While we’ve made a lot of progress, there are more recycling challenges to overcome. On the customer side, promoting recycling is not always as straight forward as you may think. Recycling infrastructure, regulations and consumer behaviors vary from city to city and country to country. There is tremendous variability in how the waste and recycling industry tracks and measures waste volume, making it difficult to capture important data. It’s going to take a lot of work and we are resolved to be part of the solution and influence powerful change.


McDonald’s Joins Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners to Develop a Recoverable Fiber Cup

In 2018, McDonald’s joined forces with Starbucks as a convening member of the NextGen Consortium and Cup Challenge to develop a fiber to-go cup and create a fully and widely recyclable and/or compostable cup in collaboration with Closed Loop Partners. The NextGen Cup Challenge was opened to supply chain leaders, innovators, solution providers and anyone with promising solutions to recover single use cups. The 12 winners were announced in February 2019, and six will now enter an accelerator program to help scale their solutions. Follow the progress and learn more about the NextGen Cup Challenge here.


Our goals and progress


As one of the world’s largest restaurant companies, we’ve set goals to use less packaging, promote values of circularity, in our packaging design, drive innovation in sustainable packaging and in the recycling sector, and engage millions of customers in the thousands of communities we call home to adopt recycling behaviors as the norm.



By 2025, 100% of McDonald’s guest packaging will come from renewable,1 recycled2 or certified3 sources.

Interim target: 100% of fiber-based guest packaging will come from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs by 2020.



As of 2017, 70% of our fiber-based guest packaging comes from recycled or certified fiber sources.

As of 2018, all centrally managed guest packaging is fully out of foam. It is a requirement that markets do not use foam for any local guest packaging items.


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



Currently, we recycle guest packaging in an estimated 10% of McDonald’s restaurants around the world. In some markets, we’re recycling at nearly 100% of our locations, and in others we’re just getting started.

12 of our top 16 markets now have recycling and litter programs and partnerships in place.



That’s not all…

See how we’re addressing sustainable packaging and customer recycling around the world.


A kid jumping in the air holding a McDonald's Happy Meal

Scaling up with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition

We are proud to be the first restaurant company to join How2Recycle, a program within the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.


A child holding the McDonald's Happy Meal container in front of their face

Unlocking the value in waste paper and plastic

We’re tackling the challenge of unlocking the value in discarded paper and plastic by partnering with the Foodservice Packaging Institute.


A forest with large tall trees

Cutting paper, not trees

We have a global commitment to eliminate deforestation from our global supply chains. This means conserving forests and high conservation value areas.


McDonald's burger packaging on a table

Rethinking packaging, U.K.

Each day our teams are finding better ways to reduce the amount of material we use in our packaging and to increase its recycled content.


Three McDonald's employees cleaning

Keeping Britain Tidy

McDonald’s UK is an active supporter of the U.K.’s anti-litter campaigns like Keep Britain Tidy, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Wales Tidy and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.


A smart McDonald's restaurant

Reducing food waste in the Netherlands

As a member of the Dutch Taskforce on Circular Economy in Food, McDonald’s Netherlands works with industry partners to exchange best practices on reducing food waste.


A McDonald's bag and drink sitting on a table

Eating out in Taiwan just became more sustainable

With around 8,500 tons of paper used in our packaging across Taiwan every year, achieving the FSC stamp of approval on packaging in nearly 400 restaurants was a big milestone.


ReCup in Germany

ReCup Program in Germany

McDonald’s Germany is piloting a program called ReCup where customers can ask for a reusable coffee cup and return it at other partnering McDonald’s or QSRs in Germany to be cleaned and reused.




Our Stories


1. Renewable: Material that is composed of biomass from a living source and that can be continually replenished. ISO 14021:2016 “renewable” and “recycled” material; for plastic, ASTM 6866 or ISO 16620-2. Renewable applies to plastics only, not fiber.

2. Recycled: Material that has been reprocessed from recovered [reclaimed] material by means of a manufacturing process and made into a final product or into a component for incorporation into a product. [ISO 14021:2016 “renewable” and “recycled” material.] Recycled material applies to plastics and fiber. Fiber-based packaging made from 100% recycled content must be third-party verified, unless certified under a Chain of Custody forest management standard.

3. Certified: All guest packaging made from paper/board sold to McDonald’s must be certified. We give preference to FSC®-certified fiber when it meets product performance requirements and competitive market conditions. Other recognized forest certifications include PEFC and PEFC- endorsed schemes such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and Cerflor (Brazil). By 2020, all finished products from potentially high risk sources must be FSC certified. The current list of potential high risk countries, as developed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) includes: Russia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Argentina. This list may be amended should risk assessment identify a need.

4. Recycling includes all manners in which recycling can be collected. Options will vary by market. Examples include, but are not limited to, tray collection of waste for back of counter separation, installed bins that allow guests to separate recycling from trash, collecting all waste in one bin and sending to a facility for separation and recycling.

Special venue McDonald’s restaurants that are located within multi-businesses spaces (shopping malls, in-store, train stations, airports, etc.) where they do not have ownership of waste hauling for their restaurant will be a challenge. We don’t have control of building policies or waste contracts, but we are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with venues over the next seven years to create more opportunities for recycling.

The aspiration is to provide options for recycling paper, cans and plastic fractions by 2025. Recycling refers to the act of collecting and separating guest packaging items that can be recycled and ensuring they are sent to a facility for recycling. The focus of this goal is guest packaging. Kitchen recycling, including oil, corrugate, PE foils/film, coffee grounds, etc., is strongly encouraged and can be a good starting point.