Will reusable packaging end up polluting more? This is what McDonald's thinks

A McDonald's restaurant with single use packaging.
A McDonald's restaurant with single use packaging. Copyright Mike Stewart/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Mike Stewart/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Aida Sanchez Alonso
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The fast food chain asks for more recycling ahead of an EU legislation that will ban single-use packaging by 2030.


Mcdonald's has started its lobby campaign to water down an important EU legislation about single-use packaging. The initiative presented last November by the European Commission aims to ban single-use packaging for dine-in by 2030.

But a report done by Kearney financed by McDonald's says that banning single-use packaging will increase the production of plastic, the consumption of water and might reduce food safety.

It also states that "better economic, environmental, and consumer outcomes can be achieved by scaling existing circularity solutions and know-how, such as recycling".

French restaurants and fast food chains have had, since 1st January 2023, to use reusable packaging for dine-in if their establishments can host more than 20 people at the same time. This forced all chains, such as McDonald's but also Starbucks or Burger King, to adapt their packaging.

It represented many challenges. 

"This has led to a change in operations. We had to adapt the equipment to be able to receive the dishes, then it generated a change in the training of the teams, we had to train everyone to the reusable dishes", said Naomie, a restaurant manager for McDonald's in Lens, a city in Northern France.

The costs are also economic, as new machines had to be installed. "It also cost us operationally because we had to buy equipment and therefore it generated a significant cost in the dishwashing area for the adaptation of all the washing, drying and storage".

Fast food restaurants, which include big chains but also local kebab shops, want to combine both reusable and single-use packaging and improve recycling.

But for Zero Waste organisations, recycling has already shown its limits as they believe the best waste is the one that is never produced. The question now is not the if, but the 'how".

"In our view and in the view of many officials as well and citizens, the question is how we transition towards reusable packaging, working as a system with a shared infrastructure, something that can help actually businesses to cut on the waste generation by having a system that works well but is safe," said Nathan Dufour, from Zero Waste Europe.

According to Dufour, McDonald's in France produces 115 tonnes of waste per day. 

While France is ahead of EU legislation, the bloc is now getting ready to start the debate on the issue which is likely to be highly influenced by pressure from fast food chains.

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