McDonald's and Coke Among Big Brands Pushing Sustainable Packaging
Take a look at the predictions and prognostications of packaging trends for 2018 and sustainable packaging will likely be among every one. As sustainability awareness among consumers is on the rise, it makes sense that brands that align with these environmental values are more apt to achieve consumers’ attention.
Last week, two of the most widely recognized global brands made some fairly ambitious announcements regarding their packaging, demonstrating their awareness of this consumer push. McDonald’s kicked things off on Tuesday, Jan. 16, with the announcement that by 2025, all of the fast food chain’s guest packaging will come from “renewable, recyclable or certified sources.” Not to be outdone, on Friday, Jan. 19, Coca-Cola debuted its World Without Waste initiative, in which the company states it will, by 2030, collect and recycle the equivalent of all of the bottles and cans it sells around the world.
Clearly, these are lofty goals, and these two titans of food and beverage will have their work cut out for them to make these goals into reality. Starting with McDonald’s, the press release states the three key pillars of the company’s goals are, by 2025, ensuring all of its packaging is sourced as renewable, recyclable or certified, recycling guest packaging at all of its restaurants, and by 2020, acquiring all of its fiber-based packaging from recyclable or certified sources where there is no deforestation. Regarding certification, the release states McDonald's will place a preference on Forest Stewardship Council certification.
To achieve these goals, the company has a lot of ground to cover. According to the release, half of McDonald’s packaging currently comes from renewable, recyclable or certified sources, while 64% of its fiber-based packaging comes from certified or recycled sources. The release also points out that an estimated 10% of McDonald’s locations around the world recycle customer packaging.
The announcement states that to begin the process, McDonald’s will address its packaging designs, add new recycling programs, and develop education processes for both employees and customers.
Just a few days after the big McDonald’s announcement, James Quincey, president and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, penned an op-ed for Medium, detailing Coca-Cola’s latest sustainability goals and the reasoning behind them. Quincey begins right away by addressing the elephant in the room — there is an alarming amount of plastic packaging entering the world’s oceans. Bottled beverages are often to blame for this, and Quincey appears to not only be aware of this, but determined to put an end to it.
What was intriguing about Quincey’s writing is that Coca-Cola’s goal is not about eliminating packaging, or even blaming packaging itself for the world's environmental troubles. In fact, he even comes right out and says that packaging has sustainability advantages in its ability to reduce food waste and safely transport clean water to areas in need, among others.
He also took a realistic approach in his op-ed, stating that in many communities, recycling is not as easy as just tossing an empty bottle or can in a recycling bin. While he does state that the company is working to make its packaging 100% recyclable, the core of the World Without Waste initiative is for Coca-Cola to collect and recycle the equivalent to every bottle and can it sells — no matter the source, along with increasing educational outreach on how people can be more active in the recycling process.
Packaging Perspective: One of the most pressing issues in packaging recyclability is that consumers often don't know the proper steps to take to ensure their discarded packaging actually ends up in the recycling stream. These initiatives from both McDonald’s and Coke are definitely a step in the right direction, and additional consumer education about packaging sustainability will take them to the next level.
Quincey points out in his op-ed that sustainability is a joint effort between corporations and consumers. He explains that Coca-Cola is constantly assessing the materials it uses to produce its bottles to make them more environmentally-friendly. Increasing the on-pack recycling instructions however, would help encourage consumers to ensure their cans and bottles are disposed of properly.
For example, the How2Recycle label, pioneered by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, provides consumers with more details on how they can ensure a package gets recycled, such as whether a bottle cap or label must be removed prior to recycling. This type of preemptive communication can at least help deter plastic packaging from ending up in waterways, but in the interim, Coca-Cola deserves credit for not just thinking inwardly about improving its own practices, but pledging to collect and recycle any type of packaging gone astray, no matter the brand that produced it.
Likewise, the McDonald’s release states that the company is in tune with the fact that regions and municipalities across the country and around the world have various degrees of recycling accessibility and consumer recycling practices can vary depending on geographic location.
By implementing design elements into its packaging that explain the recycling process to consumers and where they can dispose of their packaging within the restaurant to ensure it is entering the recycling stream, McDonald’s can help minimize the amount of packaging that ends up in a landfill. McDonald's was actually the first national restaurant chain to take part in How2Recycle, but despite these efforts, it is still a monumental task to route all of its packaging into the recycle stream. The McDonald's release does state it aims to increase its educational outreach to both its staff and customers, so it will be interesting to see what steps it takes with both on pack and in-store communication, beyond How2Recycle.
Though sustainability announcements from major brands are often met with skepticism, it is encouraging to see that these two iconic corporations are at least in tune with what consumers want and are taking steps forward to improve their environmental footprint.