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McDonald’s introduces reusable packaging in Europe

The world’s favourite fast-food chain has launched reusable packaging in France. After an image of the new packaging went viral online, customers are expressing both excitement and concern. Could this be the future of the McDonald’s experience globally?

Take a Saturday morning walk through any city centre and you’re bound to spot McDonald’s carry bags, cups, and cardboard containers littered on the streets or pouring out of public bins.

As our insatiable taste for an end-of-night Maccies refuses to go away, it’s become evident that the insane amount of waste the company produces isn’t either. At present, McDonald’s produces about 3 tons of packaging every minute. This adds up to 2 million tons of packaging every year.

Still, as the world’s most popular fast-food joint, McDonald’s has been expected to set ambitious sustainability targets. It ditched plastic and Styrofoam packaging for paper wrappings long ago, and in 2018 it stopped selling plastic straws, too. It also promised that all of its food packaging will be completely recyclable worldwide by 2025.

In Europe, the company is taking things a step further. Completely reusable packaging has been spotted at a franchise in Paris, France. Posted on Twitter and again on Reddit, people everywhere are sharing their thoughts and concerns – even French President Emmanuel Macron chimed in.

There are two key concerns amongst online users: the long-term environmental cost of the new, reusable containers and whether adequate sanitation practices will be put in place to deal with them.

Firstly, it’s still unclear what the packaging spotted in Paris is made from. Until McDonald’s confirms its release, we can only assume (as many online users have) that it is plastic or silicone. From the pictures, it certainly looks like it.

If this is the case, it’s worth asking whether reusable plastic containers are better for the planet than cardboard packaging that is thrown away within minutes.

A Twitter user said: ‘The volume of plastic needed to create this and then washing and drying surely is way more environmentally damaging than cardboard which breaks down or can be recycled? I don’t really get it.’

A fair point, but to play devil’s advocate, most cardboard packaging provided by fast food joints is coated in a shiny plastic layer.

Along with residual grease, the shiny film makes packaging difficult to recycle. It also causes boxes to release microplastics into the environment, meaning we might be better off using something reusable regardless of what it’s made from.

But it’s not silly to suggest that plastic ‘forever packaging’ could end up in landfills due to cosmetic damage or to question how often the reusable boxes will need replacing. These items, if plastic, will stay in the environment for hundreds of years longer than bits of cardboard.

The second and entirely reasonable objection is sterilisation.

We’ve just dealt with a highly contagious virus for almost three years, so it makes sense people are worried about how clean each food carrier will be when it lands on a tray. We’ve all caught a slight case of germophobia and perhaps that’s not really a bad thing.

One Twitter user said: ‘I leave [sic] in France and it is being generalized in all stores. After usage, you just throw it in a special bin. Then it is cleaned up and sterilized for a next customer. The look and the feeling is gorgeous. I’m loving it.’

Another user said: ‘This is not hygienic, nobody will properly wash this after use and who knows how this things will be stored, employees will not like it at all, too much new work for them.’

At the same time, others addressed the elephant in the room by simply commenting: ‘plates?’

Amongst the unanswered questions left, are whether this will be a worldwide rollout or presented as an option for specific franchises or regions. Until McDonald’s answers, let’s just say it’s a nice step in the right direction and respect the willingness to experiment with change.

Of course, we can’t forget that Burger King beat McDonald’s to the punch, by releasing its reusable ‘clamshell’ packaging last year. It’s possible that others could be sure to follow, and we’d be keen to know what our readers think about the switch!


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