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McDonalds And Their Approach To Sustainability In The Fast Food Industry

Sasha Hill talks about her favourite fast food chain to eat after a night out; McDonald’s. She also discusses how this popular restaurant is beginning to make a change towards becoming more sustainable.


You may recognise “I'm loving it!” is the well-known slogan that McDonalds is known for. Thanks to the brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald, one of the worlds favourite fast-food chains was born in San Bernardino, California, United States where the franchise expanded. It has become so successful that there are a total of 40,031 restaurants worldwide as recorded in 2021.

 

Each country has customised their own menu to fit the local cuisine. This ranges from a Jalapeno Single/ Double in South Africa, a HiruMac teriyaki chicken burger in Japan or a butter chicken grilled burger in India to a bacon double cheeseburger here in the UK. McDonald’s has become a favourite spot for those who have finished work or school and don’t fancy cooking for a night. Many people choose to dine in whereas some people prefer to takeout and enjoy at home.


A McDonald’s meal eaten in the restaurant on a tray. Image Credit: Dinkun Chen via Wikimedia Commons.

 

When ordering either to eat in or take away, the packaging is the exact same. In most meal deals, it contains a paper or cardboard box wrapped around the burger, a paper cup for drinks with a plastic lid and a cardboard fry box.


A McDonald’s meal taken away to eat at home, in a takeaway paper bag. Image Credit: Dinkun Chen via Wikimedia Commons.

 

There are multiple ways Mcdonalds in the UK could reduce their waste. A few ways to do so is by looking at how France has changed their containers when eating in, changing the materials used in their Happy Meal and comparing its sustainability to other fast food restaurants.


On a recent trip to Paris, I made a stop at a McDonald's restaurant to see if there were any differences to the UK branches. The image below shows how McDonalds in France has managed to decrease its waste by supplying customers with reusable cups and fry boxes. They had cups and fry boxes according to the size that the customer orders.

 

The area where you would typically empty your waste food and packaging now has different shapes on the counter to allocate where each container would go once you finished your meal. Most people would mix their waste (leftover food and drinks) with recyclable waste which could result in a lot of these materials being damaged and unable to process. This French McDonalds restaurant had a section where you could remove all of your uneaten food and drink waste to prevent cross-contamination.


A reusable cup and fry container in a McDonald’s in Paris, France. Image Credit: Sasha Hill.


Based on the corporate McDonald's website, they have made changes to packaging their items. These changes include switching to paper-based straws and designing McFlurry cups without plastic lids. The sustainability vision includes the circular economy approach when it comes to packaging. This means that the materials used in McDonald's product containers are renewable, recycled and will aim to come from certified resources by the end of 2025.


One of the main target audiences are young children. Parents bring them there for a treat, a quick bite to eat before or after school or perhaps even a birthday party. As it's promoted as a family friendly place to eat, more and more people bring their children to eat there. McDonald’s located in the UK and Ireland have decided to reduce non sustainable hard plastic in Happy Meal toys. The toys in the “Happy Meal” will now contain either a soft-toy, paper-based toy or a book. Simply by changing the material that the toys were made of (virgin fossil fuels), is reducing the strain on the planet's resources. This change has prevented the production of over 3,000 metric tons of non-sustainable plastic which is equivalent to 650,000 people eliminating plastics per year!

 

Chipotle 2023 Annual Sustainability report announced that their goal is to reduce their scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions) by 50% by 2030. They plan to do this by changing their energy to become more efficient and renewable sources to support a clean energy future. This is shown through the successfully designed and opening of 21 all-electric and hybrid electric restaurants.


It's a positive start that McDonalds are changing to become more sustainable not only in the UK but everywhere else around the world. While these are all great solutions, McDonalds can become even more environmentally friendly by decreasing the number of beef options on the menu as cattle release methane which contributes towards the GHG emissions.

 


About the Author: Sasha is an Environment and Economics student with a love for the outdoors, movies, and spending time with friends and family.

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