Plastic has always been a cornerstone of the fast food industry. As a cheap, flexible and reliable material, it’s been used in everything from multi-purpose packaging to free toys. However, as we’ve begun to get to grips with the wider problems posed by our plastic consumption, it has become increasingly apparent that our over-dependence is incredibly toxic. The fact that plastic continues to do untold damage to the environment on a daily basis means that its ubiquity in our food is rightly coming under serious scrutiny.
The desperate situation in which we have placed Planet Earth has finally prompted some companies to take action. In a dramatic move this week, global fast food franchise McDonald’s revealed that they have made a commitment to remove all plastic lids from their McFlurry packaging in the UK by September this year, as well as convert their salad boxes to cardboard. Experts believe that the policy could ultimately help save an estimated 485 tonnes of plastic every year.
In a public statement released alongside the news, Beth Hart, supply chain director at McDonald’s UK, revealed, “I am delighted that today’s news means we will be serving our much loved and new menu items in an even more sustainable way. Removing plastic lids from the McFlurry, and introducing new cardboard packaging for salads, will save nearly 500 metric tonnes of plastic a year. It’s the latest step in our sustainability journey.” She went on to add that the company are “committed to listening to our customers and finding solutions with our suppliers that work for them, this is the latest example of that – but by no means the end.”
This is not the only significant recent change undertaken by the restaurant. Last year, McDonald’s took the drastic, and at the time controversial decision to ban all plastic straws in its British restaurants, which had been using as many as 1.8 million single use straws every single day. While the move was welcomed by environmental activists, it also prompted a backlash from some customers.
Both these policies indicate that McDonald’s is slowly dragging itself towards a more environmentally responsible position. Elsewhere, the chain have promised to source all of its packaging from recyclable sources by 2025, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36% by 2030. This certainly represents a shift from some of the more socially irresponsible policies that have been pursued in the past.
However, despite these positive changes, many critics believe that McDonald’s - and indeed the industry as a whole - are not doing nearly enough to combat some of the more immediate impacts of their business practices. In January of this year, a group of wealthy investors signed a joint letter, demanding that the sector take urgent action, warning that “animal agriculture is the world’s highest-emitting sector without a low-carbon plan.” While reduction of plastic is obviously important and should be applauded, it’s clear that there is much more work to be done.