Continuing our Journey Toward Sustainable Packaging

January 11, 2016

Last week, McDonald’s kicked off the New Year by rolling out a new design for our packaging, beginning with our cold fountain beverage cups, carry out bags and sandwich boxes in the U.S. The new look and feel is simple and fresh, consistent with our vision to be a modern, progressive burger company.

As we do so, many in the sustainability community may be wondering, “What does this mean for the company’s journey toward sustainable packaging?”

Well, while the new packaging is primarily about the fresh graphical design, the relevant sustainability aspects are already integrated from our longer-term Sustainability strategy. We’re focused on incorporating sustainability into the core of our business and on how we evolve our company over time.

Our sustainable packaging journey dates back to 25 years ago when we established a groundbreaking partnership withEnvironmental 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 percent in the decade following the partnership.

Since then, we’ve continued to work with Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to adopt a holistic and impactful approach to advancing all aspects of sustainable sourcing and operations, from our supply chain to our restaurants.

So, where are we today? As McDonald’s Global Sustainable Packaging Lead, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and truly excited about where we’re headed. At the same time, I recognize that we still have a lot of work to do. There are opportunities for improvement across the entire value chain, including in our restaurants where we’re striving to expand well-established kitchen recycling programs to be more customer-facing with our waste reduction efforts.

The guiding light for all of our work is a vision to source ALL of our food and packaging sustainably. That is the final destination we are striving toward. In line with this vision, we’ve set a time-bound goal to achieve 100% of our packaging from certified or recycled sources by the year 2020, with a global preference for Forest Stewardship Council-certified sources (FSC). For a company of McDonald’s size and scope, that’s a pretty tall order. And to be sure, there have been — and will continue to be — challenges along the way.

Still, we’re making gains toward our vision. In 2014, McDonald’s became the first global food service company to join World Wildlife Fund’s Global Forest & Trade Network — North America (GFTN-NA) program. As of the end of 2014, twenty-three percent of McDonald’s Corporation’s fiber-based packaging is certified or recycled, and we are on-track to increase those percentages in the coming year. Globally, we are also continuing to reduce the percentage of non-renewable packaging.

In Europe, as of end of September 2015, we are already sourcing 100% of our centrally-sourced fiber-based packaging from recycled or certified sources. In the U.S., we are currently transitioning to 100% FSC-certified fiber for our hot cups, to be completed in 2016, including featuring the Forest Stewardship Council logo to share this information with our customers.

Not surprisingly, progress varies by market due to regulatory and infrastructure considerations, but we are globally aligned around our vision, and committed to scaling solutions when it makes sense to bring us closer and closer to achieving our 2020 sustainable packaging goal.

One thing is for sure. We know we can’t achieve our goal for sustainable packaging — or our broader sustainable sourcing vision — alone. Which is why we’ll continue to collaborate with our suppliers and environmental NGOs to make that vision a reality. The year 2020 will be here before we know it. What we are able to point to as our achievements four years from now, depends on what we do today.

So, as you enjoy the new look and feel of McDonald’s packaging, know that it’s not just the design we’re focused on for the long-term. We’re working each and every day to make our packaging not just easy on the eyes, but also better for the Planet.

-Rolf Huwyler, McDonald’s Senior Manager Global Sustainability