McDonald's Brazil is serving up sustainable food trays made from waste

February 17, 2021

One of the key challenges to making new products with recycled materials is that most waste is unrecyclable. Mixed recycling – when materials like glass, paper and plastic are all recycled together in one stream – tends to degrade the materials and makes them less valuable for reuse. 

Household waste, which might include everything from food scraps to diapers, is typically not only unusable and destined for the landfill, but particularly harmful to the environment. As food waste decomposes, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide.

But what if some of that organic waste could be a resource instead?

Arcos Dorados, the largest independent McDonald's franchise in the world, this year introduced food trays made with UBQ™, a biobased thermoplastic produced from household waste that prevents more emissions than it causes. The initiative is the first step in a partnership between Arcos Dorados, which operates restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean, and UBQ Materials, an Israeli company that patented the technology. 

Around 7,000 serving trays made with UBQ™ will be deployed in 30 McDonald's restaurants across 20 Brazilian state capitals, replacing old plastic tray models, that will be sent for recycling as part of the current Arcos Dorados’ circular economy projects. The initiative will be gradually extended to all McDonald’s restaurants throughout Brazil, with 11,000 additional trays already in production. Cumulatively, production of the new trays has already diverted over 1,200 kg of waste from being sent to landfills. 

“We as a company are fully committed to the environment and are doing everything possible to reduce the impact of our operation,” said Gabriel Serber, Director of Sustainable Development and Social Impact at Arcos Dorados. “The partnership with UBQ is yet another step towards introducing more and more innovative solutions to improve the world around us, and we are proud to take this first step, supporting a technology that will transform the way society recycles its organic waste.”

Not to be confused with standard recycling that requires highly developed sorting, UBQ’s technology receives landfill-destined waste that includes everything – food leftovers, paper, cardboard, and mixed plastics – and can convert it all into a single composite thermoplastic material compatible with industry machinery and manufacturing standards. 

“Even in places in the world with highly sophisticated recycling infrastructures, over 80% of waste is deemed unrecyclable due to inefficient sorting, food contamination, humidity, and complex multilayered material end-products,” UBQ cofounder and CEO Jack “Tato” Bigio told a reporter. “By positioning our technology at the end of the waste life cycle, we are closing the loop of materials reuse and enabling a truly circular economy.”

Arcos Dorados' broader plastics reduction program began in 2018. Since then, over 1.300 tons of single-use plastic have been removed from the restaurants. The plan is to continue on this path, minimizing the use of virgin materials throughout logistics, supply chain and manufacturing to measurably offset the chain’s carbon footprint. 

To learn about Arcos Dorados’ initiatives and socio-environmental commitments, visit  

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