We’ve all heard about frontrunners of the eco-friendly movement like Greta Thunberg, Patagonia outdoor gear, and of course, the legendary Prius. But recently, an unexpected champion of sustainability has arrived on the scene: McDonald’s. The home of the Big Mac announced that they will be trying out plastic-free restaurants in Canada and Germany.
McDonald’s is not only a worldwide fast-food chain but the world’s biggest restaurant company. This makes them one of the biggest consumers of plastic in the industry. Significant natural resources are required to support the 37,000 restaurants that span over 100 countries. Keep in mind, fast food relies on disposable packaging rather than washable, reusable dishes–– and the waste adds up.
However, McDonald’s is set on alleviating its environmental footprint as much as possible. They have recently launched versions of “the Better McDonald’s Store” across Germany and Canada, plastic-free establishments that are testing out alternatives to the current, highly-wasteful model. For example, these stores have introduced wooden utensils, paper straws, and grass-paper packaging. Forget recycling, even––condiments are being served in edible waffle cups.
Clearly, McDonald’s wants to make both a change and a statement. Serving over 69 million customers per day, the Golden Arches are one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. McDonald’s is the perfect candidate to take meaningful actions towards sustainability. The company is so established in the global economy that adding an element of social activism likely won’t affect the image of their brand; most patrons would continue eating at McDonald’s as long as the fries are salty and the chicken nuggets cheap. In fact, they are actually likely to gain more customers from this eco-friendly stunt, drawing in a new demographic who wants to support companies with strong social values.
McDonald’s is one of the first major fast-food chains to attempt a commitment to being completely plastic-free. They are eager to hear feedback from consumers about their experiment in order to best suit the needs of all shareholders (unfortunately, replacing plastic straws with paper ones has already been heavily petitioned against).
While opting to go plastic-free is a monumental step in the right direction, it will require the cooperation of customers, governments, and franchise owners to work together. So far, two major countries have taken the leap. Can the United States keep up?