Packaging and Recycling
At McDonald’s, we’re finding new and innovative ways to reduce our use of packaging, switch to more sustainable materials and help our customers to reuse and recycle too.
Why it matters
Packaging helps us serve hot, fresh and delicious food quickly and safely to our customers. It also reduces food waste by keeping food fresher for longer. But we know that packaging and plastic waste can have a negative impact on our planet, and we want to help tackle this challenge.
We also know that customers care about our packaging. They want it to perform well, but they also tell us that the environmental impact of our packaging and waste is their number one environmental concern for us to address.
On this page:
At McDonald’s, we want to use our global scale to help accelerate a circular economy. As part of our Scale for Good ambition, we’ve made two key commitments:
- Source 100% of our guest packaging from renewable,i recycled,ii or certifiediii sources by 2025. This includes an interim goal to source 100% of primaryiv fiber-based guest packaging from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs by 2020.
- Recycle guest packaging in 100% of McDonald’s restaurants by 2025. We understand that recycling infrastructure varies from city to city and country to country, but we plan to be part of the solution and help influence powerful change.
We’re focusing on four key strategies:
• Eliminate packaging through design innovation, introducing reusable solutions, and encouraging behavior change to reduce usage
• Shift materials to use 100% renewable, recycled, or certified content and streamline the variety of materials used to enable easier recovery without compromising on quality and performance
• Recover and recycle by finding ways to scale up systems to allow for greater acceptance of recycling, and making it easier for our guests to recycle, too
• Close the loop by using more recycled materials in our packaging, restaurants, and facilities, and helping to drive global demand for recycled content
Tackling plastic pollution
We believe that some plastic packaging is necessary in the food industry to maintain quality and safety. Plastic has many benefits compared with other materials. For example, it’s lighter than glass and fiber, and therefore emits less CO2 emissions when transported. However, we know that when plastic isn’t recycled or recovered correctly, it creates plastic pollution which is harmful to the environment. Today, the use of plastic is rapidly increasing around the world, yet according to the OECDv just 14-18% of all plastic gets recycled globally. We want to play our part in addressing this issue.
Although the majority of our packaging is fiber-based, approximately 22% percent of our packaging globally remains in plastic mainly for functional property needs and food safety. To improve capture rates and reduce the leakage of plastic waste into the environment, we’re working to:
- Reduce plastic in guest packaging which is hard to recycle,vi is not needed for safety or functionality, and is likely to leak into the environment, such as straws, plastic bags and cutlery.
- Prioritize innovation of new materials and redesign of plastic packaging to be more recyclable. We understand the importance of streamlining plastics in order to improve recycling rates. Our goal is to streamline material types and design packaging so that it’s easier for customers to recycle.
- Increase the amount of recycled plastic content used in all parts of our restaurants, where possible, to help drive demand for plastic recycling. For example, using recycled plastics in trays, toys, and interior design elements of our restaurants.
- Partner with companies and non-profit organizations to support the development and expansion of recycling programs for plastics. Use our local restaurants to support community level anti-litter initiatives such as consumer communication campaigns and clean-up days.
For more information, read the McDonald’s Newsroom article “How McDonald’s is Driving Circular Solutions to Tackle Packaging Waste Right –Now”.
Working in partnership
Addressing plastic pollution is not a challenge we can tackle alone. We’re engaging with the wider business community, expert NGO partners, political stakeholders, as well as our Franchisees, suppliers, customers, and our restaurant crew to help drive change at scale.
We’re proud to be a Principal Member of ReSource: Plastic, World Wildlife Fund’s platform to leverage the power of business to stop the flow of plastic waste into nature. We’re also collaborating with Quantis on the Plastic Leak Project. This one-year multi-stakeholder initiative will allow us to measure our system’s plastic waste impact and use this to inform and develop scalable solutions.
Our packaging and recycling efforts support 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).
Along with these, we’ve mapped our Scale for Good initiatives to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
We’re testing new packaging solutions and recycling initiatives in our restaurants around the world to learn how we can reduce packaging and switch to more sustainable materials, while still delivering a great experience for our customers. By using our restaurants as mini innovation hubs, we can get immediate customer feedback and identify the best solutions to accelerate and scale across multiple markets.
Eliminating packaging through material innovation and design
Giving our desserts a make-over
Across Europe, we are in the process of switching to new McFlurry packaging which eliminates the need for a separate plastic lid, which will save more than 1,200 metric tons of plastic per year. In Sweden, we have also introduced a more sustainable paper-based cup for Milkshakes, moving away from the traditional plastic cups.
Introducing a new strawless lid
In McDonald’s France we’ve introduced a new fiber lid for cold fountain drinks, removing the plastic lid and the need for a plastic straw. This innovation will result in an annual reduction of 1,200 metric tons of plastic. We are encouraged by successful pilot tests of this lid in Canada, but know there are some obstacles to overcome, such as consumer acceptance of drinking from a new, less familiar material.
Reusing cups in Germany
McDonald’s Germany is currently piloting a program called ReCup where customers can ask for a reusable coffee cup and return it at other partnering McDonald’s or quick service restaurants in Germany to be cleaned and reused.
We’re continuously searching for ways to optimize packaging, whether that be clamshell boxes or using bags instead of boxes for nuggets. By making smart changes like using lighter bags and reducing the weight of cutlery, McDonald’s Taiwan is saving 120 tons of fiber annually. McDonald's Canada, meanwhile, has switched to napkins that are 20% smaller and produced with 100% recycled fiber.
Shifting to materials of the future
Moving from plastic straws
Across the world we’ve been trialing paper straws in place of plastic straws, and straws-upon-request initiatives. In 2019, McDonald’s restaurants in the UK and Ireland completed their transition from plastic to paper straws, in response to consumer demand for a reduction in plastic straws. McDonald’s in a number of other markets are also transitioning to paper straws.
Creating the cup of the future
In 2018, McDonald’s U.S. joined forces with Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners as a convening member of the NextGen Consortium, a multi-year consortium that aims to address single-use food packaging waste globally. NextGen Cup is the first initiative by the NextGen Consortium, which aims to advance recoverable solutions for the fiber, hot and cold, to-go cup system. The NextGen Cup Challenge identified innovative solutions for single-use cups that are functional to a high standard, minimize and streamline material use and encourage wide recoverability. While initial prototyping and potential pilots of winning solutions will take place in the U.S., we continue to think globally and see potential for the right solutions to be scaled across our global system. Follow the progress and learn more about the NextGen Consortium.
“The leadership exhibited by McDonald’s and Starbucks in the NextGen Consortium demonstrates their commitment to solving a critical global waste issue and accelerating change together. Collaboration is critical if we are to innovate, test, and scale the sustainable cup solutions of our future.”
Bridget Croke, VP of External Affairs, Closed Loop Partners
Recovering and recycling our packaging
Making recycling easier for our guests
Recycling shouldn’t be a chore. That’s why want to make it easier for our guests. We’re in the process of launching sorting and recycling points in select restaurants across our top markets and piloting improved recycling bin signage to make the recycling process easier to understand.
Keeping communities clean
Our restaurant crew across the world take part in local litter clean-ups. For example, McDonald’s Belgium launched the ‘Garbage, We Take It Personally’ campaign in 2018 with the ambition to reduce the litter in the cities in which McDonald’s operates by 20% by the end of 2023. In 2019, McDonald’s Switzerland convened crew members, senior leaders in the business, suppliers and guests for a joint clean-up day across nine cities.
Recycling back of house materials
We’ve also made progress in recycling behind the kitchen counter at our restaurants. At more than 85% of McDonald’s restaurants globally, crew recycle materials such as used cooking oil and corrugated cardboard. Learn more about how we’re looking at McDonald’s restaurant design, equipment and crew operations to ensure our environmental footprint is low and our community legacy is positive.
Resourcing materials to close the loop
Closing the loop on the coffee cup
We’re testing coffee cup recycling schemes to find the best ways to scale up recycling and provide quality recycled material which can be reused in new packaging. In the UK, our paper cups are sent to specialist recycling centers to make different recycled products, such as park benches, from the fiber and plastic lining.
Recycling ocean plastic waste
McDonald’s Norway is producing serving trays made of from 100% recycled marine plastic waste from the Nordland coast, in partnership with a small group that makes plastic pellets from marine waste collected by fishermen. The group creates products out of the marine plastic, like sunglasses, shoes and now, trays for McDonald’s restaurants.
Reusing toys in trays
In 2018, McDonald’s Japan initiated a toy recycling program with the Japanese Ministry of the Environment to collect plastic Happy Meal toys and convert them into restaurant serving trays. As part of this program, McDonald’s Japan collected around 1.27 million used plastic toys which were turned into over 100,000 trays.
To keep delighting our customers now and in the future, we’re working to identify more sustainable solutions for our Happy Meal toys globally, while offering the same safety, quality and durability. We have a global working group exploring the production of more sustainable toy options and we’re looking forward to sharing more soon. Learn more about our global commitment to families.
Inviting customers to trial and test new packaging ideas
In June 2019, we trialed a nearly plastic packaging-free restaurant in Berlin for 10 days. We tested edible waffle cups in place of condiment sachets and containers. Paper straws replaced plastic straws. Wooden cutlery replaced plastic cutlery. Sandwiches were wrapped in packaging made from grass, not paper. And Chicken McNuggets were served in paper bags, rather than cardboard boxes.
The idea wasn’t to make every sustainable packaging change at once. Instead, it was to facilitate an open discussion about what works, what doesn’t, and the challenges with possible solutions between McDonald’s, our customers and various stakeholders. It was also an opportunity for customers and stakeholders to experience various solutions and provide us with feedback. Our customers believed the paper straws were eco-friendly, but had challenges with respect to ease of use and durability. We also learned that wooden cutlery isn’t many peoples’ favorite option, as one in two guests disliked the “woody” taste of the spoon.
We’re running similar concept restaurants in Canada and plan to expand this to other markets in the future. This will continue to help us innovate, learn about our customers’ expectations, and help engage a broad group in the conversation.
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, recycled or certified sources.
Interim target: 100% of primary fiber-based guest packaging will come from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs by 2020.
As of 2018, we are approximately 60% of the way to our goal of guest packaging to come from renewable, recycled or certified sources.
Globally, we are 80% of the way to achieving our interim target to source 100% of primary fiber-based guest packaging from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs by 2020.
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.
As of 2018, we recycle guest packaging in an estimated 10% of McDonald’s restaurants around the world.
In some markets, McDonald’s restaurants offer customer-facing recycling, such as sorting bins, or collect guest waste and sort it for recycling behind the counter.
12 of our top 16 markets have recycling and litter programs and partnerships in place.
i Renewable: 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.
ii 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.
iii Certified: Specifically, all guest packaging items (including hot cups, cold cups, carry-out bags, folding cartons, clamshells, wraps, food service bags, napkins, salad bowls, Happy Meal cartons, drink carriers) made from paper/ board sold to McDonald’s globally must be certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). FSC is required when fiber is sourced from the following high deforestation risk countries: Russia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Argentina by 2020.
iv Primary guest packaging refers to products that are used to package guest food on premises at McDonald’s restaurants. This type of packaging includes containers, cups, wraps, bags for food, beverages, napkins, and cup carriers. The goal excludes food packaged off-site, wood, and limited locally sourced items.