McDonald's, Starbucks Make Progress in Reducing 'Problematic Plastic'

WWF’s Transparent 2021 report details where major companies are making progress toward addressing the plastic waste crisis.
Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor, Restaurants

 A new report from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) finds that Principal Members in the organization’s ReSource: Plastic program – McDonald's Corporation, Starbucks, The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper, Procter & Gamble, – cut their use of "problematic plastic" by 57% between 2018 and 2020. This significant reduction, which totaled 71,000 metric tons, included the elimination or material transformation of hard-to-recycle small items like straws, utensils, and materials like rigid foam and vinyl.

The decrease in problematic plastic is one of many metrics highlighting progress published in Transparent 2021, the second annual report from ReSource: Plastic. Launched in 2019, the program is a first-of-its-kind effort to quantify corporate impact and track company actions and opportunities to prevent millions of tons of plastic waste. The Transparent reporting series looks at how plastic footprints are changing year-over-year, tracking progress and prioritizing recommendations for action in three areas WWF finds critical for corporate engagement on plastic: eliminating unnecessary plastic, making the plastic they do need from sustainable inputs, and doubling their recycling rates. 

“Businesses have been talking about the plastic pollution problem for some time, which is an important step, but it’s now time to ask the tough questions: what have you done and is it really making a difference?” said Sheila Bonini, senior vice president of private sector engagement, WWF. “In this reporting series, ReSource Members are answering, by putting all their data – the good, the bad, and the ugly – on the table so we can see what actions are or are not working, and it is clear how they can maximize their ability to make impact.”

Sustainability for the Planet

Restaurants and hotel brands alike are touting their better-for-the-planet positions. Sustainability will continue to influence menus and how restaurants make decisions in 2022, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast. launched its Travel Sustainable badge, a sustainability measure that will provide information to travelers to make more sustainable travel choices. Other brands are touting their sustainability movies. Chipotle aims to reduce its carbon emissions 50% by 2030. Also leading the charge is Panera Bread, which has a goal to become climate positive by 2050.  According to HT’s 2020 Customer Engagement Technology Survey, few were focused on recycling and environmental sustainability in 2020, but operators cannot and should not forget the importance of the environment to their guests and to the overall future of the hospitality industry. 

This latest Transparent report finds promising progress in some areas, particularly around eliminating unnecessary plastic. Another notable development is in the advancement of reusability – an intervention that has the potential to curb the demand for single-use items. Several companies introduced or expanded reuse pilots, and/or participated in Consumers Beyond Waste to develop critical guidance for environmentally and socially responsible reuse systems.

Less encouraging was the progress toward incorporating recycled content into plastic that can’t be eliminated, which underscores the continued investment necessary to build the recycled content supply chain – even when the demand is high – given systemic issues in waste management and recycling infrastructure. The use of recycled content among ReSource Members increased from 7.8% to 9.6% (+124,000 metric tons) between 2018 and 2020, a modest improvement which requires acceleration to meet their time-bound goals.

Primary recommendations for the year ahead include the continued elimination of unnecessary plastic through reduction, substitution, and business model innovations like reuse systems.

Bonini added: “Thanks to the unprecedented transparency from ReSource: Plastic Members, for the first time we can now confidently say, this is where you’ve made real-world, quantifiable progress, and this is where you need to focus and invest going forward.”


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