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Canadian Experiment Furthers McDonald’s Sustainability Goals

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

McDonald’s is continuing its drive toward environmental sustainability with a new program in Canada that will see two Green Concept Restaurants unveiled in London, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The move follows a major initiative reported on by The Licensing Letter on Sept. 22 (see link below) that saw McDonald’s announce a complete transformation of its policies around the toys offered to kids in its popular Happy Meals program. Under that program, McDonald’s is moving to 100% sustainable, recyclable and biodegradable toys and packaging. The move is hugely significant for the reduction of plastic waste globally, as McDonald’s distributes more toys globally than any other company.

The changes will also have a massive impact on suppliers and licensing partners, as all packaging and toys must now fit within McDonald’s sustainability policy.

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Now, McDonald’s is showing how serious it is about the program by launching an experiment with its Canadian Green Concept Restaurants. The company says McDonald’s “is on a journey to make its packaging more sustainable, as part of its goal to reduce its environmental footprint and source 100 per cent of guest packaging from renewable and/or recycled materials. To help get there, McDonald’s will unveil two Green Concept Restaurants in London, Ontario and Vancouver, BC. These restaurants will act as incubator locations to test new packaging options and recycling initiatives.”

The Green Concept Restaurants will continue using much of the current McDonald’s packaging but will also test items with the potential to be rolled out more widely in the future. The first innovations will begin testing in the coming months and include:

  • A fully re-pulpable cup for cold beverages – a Canadian QSR first
    • The cup uses an aqueous coating that is acceptable in recycling streams
    • A medium size cup will be tested
  • New fiber lids – a Canadian QSR first
    • The product is made from 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood fiber and is recyclable
    • The lid will also help reduce straw use, as guests can sip from it directly
    • Lids will be tested on all three cold cup sizes
  • Wooden cutlery
  • Wooden stir sticks
  • Paper straws

McDonald’s says the move is being driven not only from within, but also from the fast-food chain’s billions of customers around the world, including in Canada. For example, the initiative to transform Happy Meals toys came from a petition in the United Kingdom in 2019 that gathered more than 500,000 signatures, and inspired McDonald’s to switch to sustainable toys throughout the country. It is that same program that is now being adopted globally, and now it’s Canada’s turn to lead with a program that could be adopted globally.

“We are proud of the progress our Canadian organization is making towards our global packaging sustainability goals – it matters to our guests and we will continue taking our environmental responsibility seriously,” says John Betts, President and CEO at McDonald’s Canada. “Our Green Concept Restaurants are an exciting new innovation as part of our on-going sustainable journey. They are an example of how we’re able to use our scale for good and keep raising the bar on what it means to be a responsible company committed to people and the planet.”

Betts says the new program will have immediate results in Canada, removing 1,500 tons of packaging materials from the McDonald’s Canada system through the following measures:

  • Napkins: Introducing a smaller napkin (20 per cent smaller) produced with 100% recycled fibre in all restaurants, which eliminates more than 900 tons of paper.
  • McWrap carton: Transitioning from a McWrap carton to a McWrap wrap will eliminate more than 400 tons of packaging.
  • Foam: Eliminated foam from the gravy bowl and breakfast platter, removing more than 130 tons of foam.
  • Small Coffee Cup: The lightweighting of the small hot cup – removing paper from the outer layer of the cup – eliminated more than 123 tons of paper.
  • Added a How 2 Recycle (H2R) label to Happy Meal boxes, clear cups and carryout bags to help guests determine how packaging can be recycled.

The changes at McDonald’s also means changes for suppliers and licensing partners, but Douglas Douglas Moody-Stuart, the Senior Vice President of Packaging at HAVI, says partners in Canada are more than happy to follow McDonald’s lead.

“Packaging plays a vital role in how Canadians experience and enjoy the food they choose to eat, wherever they go,” said Moody-Stuart. “As category leaders for McDonald’s packaging, HAVI has been proud to help McDonald’s push the boundaries of how their packaging can create less environmental impact while maintaining the top safety and quality standards that people expect and deserve.”

James Downham, President and CEO of PAC Packaging Consortium, agrees, saying companies in the field are not just willing but actually eager to make changes that benefit the planet. “We’re in a game-changing moment as industries across the planet evolve to offer consumers more sustainable packaging options,” said Downham. “It’s incredible to see leading organizations such as McDonald’s lead the way to catalyze this change by trying new, innovative solutions to operate more sustainably and tend to our planet.”

The move is also being welcomed by industry environmental groups like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. “Packaging has a significant footprint in our world,” said Nina Goodrich, Executive Director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. “This is exactly why we believe it’s vital for organizations to reshape how products are delivered to Canadians. McDonald’s is doing exactly this by embarking on an ambitious journey to be more sustainable. We look forward to following this journey from a true brand leader. Credit to McDonald’s for championing this change.”

The two new Green Concept Restaurants will be located at 3444 E Hastings Street in Vancouver and 1033 Wonderland Road South in London, Ontario. While this program is a pilot program, McDonald’s has committed that by 2025, 100 percent of McDonald’s guest packaging will come from renewable, recycled, or certified sources, and the company also intends to recycle guest packaging in 100 percent of McDonald’s restaurants.

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