Packaging, Toys & Waste
We are accelerating solutions that reduce waste while also transitioning to more sustainable packaging and toy materials.
It is our vision that packaging and materials do not end up as waste in the environment. Our packaging, toys and waste strategies help keep communities clean, protect the planet for future generations and support our long-term business resilience.
- By the end of 2022, we were approximately 81.0% of the way toward our goal of sourcing 100% of our primary guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified materials.1, 2, 3
- Since 2018, we have reduced virgin fossil fuel-based plastic in Happy Meal toys by 47.8%, helping us replace plastics in Happy Meal toys around the world with more sustainable materials.4
- In 2022, more than 85.1% of restaurants in markets with advanced infrastructure5 offered guests the opportunity to recycle packaging items.
- In Europe, we are reducing plastic use by redesigning items such as switching to paper-based straws, deploying new McFlurry cups without plastic lids, and introducing salad boxes and cutlery made from renewable fiber. We advanced innovative molded fiber technologies to replace plastic lids and sundae ice cream cups and are deploying these renewable molded fiber solutions to other markets.
- McDonald’s USA and its suppliers in the U.S. donated over 1.6 million pounds of food and paper combined from suppliers and distribution centers – worth more than $3.4 million – to support local U.S. food banks and communities.
See our 2022–2023 Purpose & Impact Report for more on our performance and progress.
We’re committed to advancing a circular economy – keeping materials in use rather than relying on new ones. To help us achieve this, we’re investing in strategic partnerships to address systemic challenges such as recycling infrastructure, demand for recycled content and development of new materials.
The Five Focus Areas of Our Strategy
- Eliminating unnecessary packaging and streamlining materials for easier recovery in addition to innovating new materials, testing reusable solutions and creating opportunities for behavior change to reduce usage.
- Transitioning away from virgin fossil fuel-based plastics in our primary guest packaging to 100% renewable, recycled or certified sources1, 2 by the end of 2025 and drastically reducing plastics and transition to more sustainable materials in our Happy Meal toys around the globe.
- Increasing the use of recycled materials throughout our System to drive global demand for recycled content – including in packaging, toys and design materials for restaurants and facilities.
- Advancing a circular economy through the implementation of many tools to improve recycling and repurposing of materials, making it easier for customers to recycle where infrastructure exists and reduce the waste coming out of our restaurants.
- Partnering to increase scale and impact of a circular economy approach to packaging and waste. By engaging in strategic partnerships with brands, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), local governments and policymakers, we can help increase adoption of practical circular solutions for our industry.
1. Eliminating Unnecessary Packaging and Streamlining Materials for Easier Recovery
Our strategy is to use fewer materials and to optimize our packaging. We’ll accelerate our progress to reduce materials across our portfolio, redesigning some of our most iconic products to eliminate unnecessary packaging and increase opportunities for recovery.
Sourcing Materials Responsibly
We continue to be an industry leader in sourcing materials responsibly and advancing new technologies to help meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. We partner with our suppliers and other innovators, accelerating ideas through a rigorous development cycle to refine and deliver solutions against our stated goals.
- We are reducing plastic use by redesigning items such as switching to paper-based straws, deploying new McFlurry cups without plastic lids, and introducing salad boxes and cutlery made from renewable fiber. As we strive to meet our global goal, we are working with our suppliers to test new technologies that can scale globally. For example, we advanced innovative molded fiber technologies to replace plastic lids and sundae ice cream cups. We are deploying these renewable molded fiber solutions across Europe and in other markets around the world.
- McDonald’s launched 30 oz. clear cups that contribute to the sourcing of recycled and bio-based mass balance materials across the U.S. market in 2022 following a successful pilot, and plans to continue rolling out additional sizes and lids throughout 2023 and 2024. We use a mass balance method, which allows us to measure and track recycled and biobased inputs in a process that also mixes traditional fossil-fuel sources.
- New pressed certified paperboard cutlery technology launched in the Republic of Ireland, replacing a portion of difficult-to-recycle plastic, will be rolled out across the U.K. by the end of 2023.
2. Transitioning Away From Virgin Fossil Fuel-Based Plastics
While our goals focus on all packaging materials, our plastics strategy specifically focuses on:
- Removing virgin fossil fuel-based plastics from our primary guest packaging where feasible.
- Drastically reducing the use of plastics in Happy Meal toys, including virgin fossil fuel-based plastics.4
- Reducing small plastic primary guest packaging used in our System that is hard to recycle and unnecessary for safety or functionality, such as straws, plastic bags and cutlery. Progress in eliminating small plastics is tracked via individual market roadmaps.
- Prioritizing innovation of new materials, redesigning plastic packaging to be more recyclable and increasing use of recycled plastic in our packaging, and beyond, to drive demand for recycled plastic.
3. Advancing a Circular Economy
Our goal is to implement global and local solutions across our business to expand the reduction, recycling, recovery or reuse of guest packaging and help create demand for recycled materials.
We believe a variety of tools will be needed to advance a circular economy and to help markets deliver the right environmental outcomes for their geography, while meeting customer and Franchisee needs. We also believe the greatest opportunity to address waste is to advance safe and proven solutions – including reduction and recycling – where existing infrastructure and innovation can be effectively scaled across industries and communities.
In markets that have an advanced waste infrastructure that is widely accessible and robust, we offer guests the opportunity to recycle packaging in restaurants. In areas where recycling infrastructure is underdeveloped and varies, we’ll drive advocacy and invest in partnerships to help advance the development of recycling systems.
Examples of actions we are taking to achieve our ambitions include:
- Reducing the volume of waste from guest packaging instore.
- Enabling the recycling of guest packaging in restaurants across markets.
- Partnering with waste management companies, suppliers and other brands to remove barriers around recycling, reuse or composting.
- Working with suppliers to optimize our packaging for recycling.
- Using on-packaging labeling to make recycling easier for guests.
- Increasing recycled sources in packaging and restaurant design and operation materials to drive demand for producing recycled content through recycling.
- Utilizing transport logistics to collect and back-haul recyclables when they deliver supplies to our restaurants – helping to recycle materials from restaurants in remote areas and reduce trucks on the road.
The guest packaging recycling process in our restaurants varies from market to market. For example, in some markets, our crew collect and separate recyclable packaging, while in others, the process is completely off-site, sending customer waste to waste-sorting facilities. In the U.K., well-established waste separation systems in stores enable us to capture our paper cups – items made with high-value material – and recycle them in partnership with a local, specialized cup-recycling facility.
We’re partnering with Franchisees to support community-level anti-litter initiatives such as consumer communication campaigns and clean-up days in parts of the U.S., Europe and many other markets.
Additionally, we’re collaborating with companies and nonprofit organizations that aim to end litter, support the development and expansion of recycling, and promote recycling in communities. For example, McDonald’s USA partners with Keep America Beautiful, helping advance its work to end littering, improve recycling and beautify communities across the country.
4. Increasing Our Use of Recycled Materials
To fulfill our ambition to increase recycled sources in our packaging, we need more materials to be recycled. However, today, low demand for food-grade recycled material means it is in limited supply. We intend to expand our use of recycled materials, helping create greater market demand. We’re partnering with other brands and industry organizations, such as the Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition, with the NextGen Consortium to leverage scale and create higher value for food-safe, post-consumer recycled materials.
We currently use recycled sources in fiber coffee, frappe, sundae and cold cups in many markets. Our focus is to increase recycled sources in paper bags, napkins and cup carriers first. Recycled plastic is currently found in plastic beverage and ice-cream cups and select plastic lids in most European markets.
5. Partnering to Increase Scale of Solutions
Addressing circularity is not a challenge we can tackle alone. To help drive change at scale, we are engaging with the wider business community, NGO partners, political stakeholders and academics, as well as our Franchisees, suppliers, customers and restaurant crew. Challenges being faced across the industry – such as the availability of materials and technological advancements – are bringing partners together to find solutions, until which time it will be difficult to realize our plans.
Examples of our partnerships and memberships include:
- Serving as a Principal Member of ReSource: Plastic, World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) platform for translating large-scale corporate commitments into measurable progress on plastic waste reduction. Through an innovative measurement tool, ReSource is bringing transparent reporting and collective action to the forefront of corporate strategy to help companies maximize, and multiply, their potential for impact.
- McDonald’s USA joined forces with Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners as founding partners of Close Loop Partners’ NextGen Consortium in 2018, with an aim to take on the global issue of single-use food packaging waste. Building on this foundation, in 2022, the Consortium continued playing a leading role in increasing recycling access for paper and plastic single-use foodservice packaging through collaborations with partners from across various industry bodies, NGOs and communities.
- Membership in the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), a WWF-led consortium of companies, NGOs and academia advancing thought leadership on responsibly sourced bio-based plastic and the role the material can play in supporting circular systems.
- We are a member of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organization (APCO), a not-for-profit focused on developing a circular, more sustainable packaging economy in Australia. As an APCO Brand Owner Member, McDonald’s submits an annual report highlighting progress made in relation to the APCO Packaging Sustainability Framework, a consistent and transparent tool for assessing and tracking packaging sustainability across organizations. Over the years, we have contributed to APCO’s industry discussions, including on such topics as limiting certain chemicals in packaging and reviews of how to approach problematic single-use packaging.
- Being active members of the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s (FPI) Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA), Plastics Recovery Group (PRG) and the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
In addition to our partnerships with NGOs and other brands, we also partner with governmental bodies and political stakeholders to inform policy that drives the best environmental and economic outcomes. By sharing learnings and evidence based on our experiences in our supply chain and restaurants, we can inform the discussion and help foster evidence-based policy making.
McDonald’s packaging materials comply with state, federal and national laws and regulations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EU, and are verified through chemical testing.
We are committed to removing all intentionally added fluorinated compounds from our primary guest packaging materials globally by the end of 2025.1 To see our most recent progress on this goal, see our 2022–2023 Purpose & Impact Report.
Our continual product stewardship process includes evaluation and robust testing for chemicals used in our packaging. This helps ensure that we serve food in packaging that is safe and functional.
- Recovered (reclaimed) material: Material that would have otherwise been disposed of as waste or used for energy recovery, but has instead been collected and recovered (reclaimed) as a material input, in lieu of new primary material, for a recycling or a manufacturing process. Source: ISO 14021:2016.
- Renewable sources: Proportion, by mass, of renewable material in a product or packaging. Claims must be documented, verifiable and related to the finished product. Renewable sources shall be expressed quantitatively as a percentage, calculated as shown below. Sample calculation: Renewable Source of product (X %) = (A /P) × 100, where X is the renewable source, expressed as a percentage; A is the mass of renewable material; P is the mass of product. Renewable content in bio-based plastics specifically can also be assessed by the method outlined in ISO 16620-2:2015. Source: New Plastics Economy Global Commitment Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2018; this is adapted from ISO 14201:2016.
- Renewable material: Material that is composed of biomass from a living source and that can be continually replenished. For McDonald’s definitions, renewable only refers to plastics, not fiber. Source: ISO 14021:2016, for plastic, ASTM 6866 or ISO 16620-2.
- Third-party verification: Verification by an independent accredited organization that has reviewed the manufacturing process of a product and determined that the final product complies with standards for the attributed claim. Credible third parties include professional auditing and certification bodies.
- Certified sources: Suppliers of primary fiber-based packaging and toys to the McDonald’s System that comply with the Forest Management and Chain of Custody certification requirements set out by one of the following schemes: Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®); Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or PEFC-endorsed national systems, including, for example, Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), CSA Group (Canada) and Cerflor (Brazil).
- Recycled sources: 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. Recycled material applies to plastics and fiber.
- Perfluorinated (fluorinated) compounds: Known to be historically persistent in the environment. McDonald’s commits to not intentionally adding fluorinated compounds through our processes, but fluorinated compounds present in the local environment make it difficult to remove all traces of fluorine from packaging.
- Primary guest packaging: Disposable products used to package guest food on premises at McDonald’s restaurants which is given to customers in all order channels, including containers, cups, clamshells, wraps, foodservice bags, napkins, folding cartons, salad bowls, lids, straws, napkins and cup carriers, and Happy Meal book and toy packaging.
- Virgin fossil fuel-based plastics/Conventional/Traditional plastic: Plastics made from fossil fuel feedstock.
1 Packaging: Scope: Inclusive of all markets for our fiber-based packaging and Happy Meal book and toy packaging. For our plastic-based packaging, all markets are included except for Israel, Latin America, Turkey and Thailand. Renewable sources refer to material that is composed of biomass from a living source and that can be continually replenished. Renewable applies to plastics only, not fiber. Source: ISO 14021:2016 for plastic, ASTM 6866 or ISO 16620-2. Fiber-based packaging made from 100% recycled sources must be third-party verified, unless certified under a Chain of Custody Forest Management standard. McDonald’s requires all wood fiber sourced from Argentina, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam to be FSC® certified or FSC Controlled Wood sources with full chain of custody certification. Please refer to our Nature, Forests & Water page for additional definitions. Exclusions: Primary fiber-based packaging in food packaged off-site of McDonald’s restaurants, tray liners and limited locally sourced items.
2 Non-structural components of packaging vary based on the packaging but may include adhesives, inks, overprints, varnishes, retention agents or binders, processing aids, impact modifiers, and nucleating and clarifying agents. We continue to monitor industry standards on these components and opportunities to work towards making any part of our packaging, including non-structural components, more sustainable.
3 In 2022, we saw a decrease in the percentage of our primary guest packaging sourced from renewable, recycled or certified materials as compared to 2021 due to deployment of new packaging materials not yet compliant with our goal standards. We know progress in this space is not always linear and we intend to continue making supply chain improvements to meet our packaging sourcing standards and remain committed to our 2025 goal.
4 Toys: Scope: Inclusive of all toys. Fiber-based toys or fiber components in the toys: 100% certified fiber required. All other materials: McDonald’s ambition is to reduce the use of virgin fossil fuel-based plastics, offer sustainable toys by the end of 2025 and not manufacture electronics and batteries in Happy Meal toys globally. For bio- and plant-based plastics to be considered sustainable for McDonald’s, a minimum of 60% of plastic weight is required to come from recycled or renewable source or a combination of recycled and renewable source, though in many practical applications we anticipate that percentage will be much higher. The remaining 40% may be conventional fossil fuel-based material. These thresholds were developed in conjunction with input from NGOs, external manufacturing partners and scientists, and based on an assessment of sustainable toy and packaging industry leaders so that our targets reflected current sustainable engineering capabilities to maintain safety and functionality. Our efforts will result in an approximate 90% reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use against a 2018 baseline. Fiber-based packaging made from 100% recycled sources must be third-party verified, unless certified under a Chain of Custody Forest Management standard. Source: ISO 14021:2016. McDonald’s requires all wood fiber sourced from Argentina, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam to be FSC® certified or FSC Controlled Wood sources with full chain of custody certification.
5 Markets with Advanced Infrastructure: Mature waste and recycling infrastructure at a national level that has (1) a recycling infrastructure network across the entire market, (2) multiple materials being recycled within this national infrastructure network, (3) existing legislation on recycling and (4) high customer awareness of waste and recycling. At the end of 2022, that included 21 markets where McDonald’s operates.