Starbucks and McDonald’s are upping their investment in the ongoing effort to reduce the amount of foodservice packaging ending up in the nation’s landfills and waterways.
The two foodservice giants have invested an additional $10 million in the NextGen Consortium, a project managed by circular economy-focused investment firm Closed Loop Partners.
Wendy’s, meanwhile — a supporting partner of the NextGen Consortium — on Wednesday announced its move in early 2022 to clear, plastic cups that are more recyclable, starting with large cups in locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, and then all cups in those regions by 2023. The clear cups will replace the plastic-lined paper cups used currently that are difficult to recycle and end up in landfills.
Founded in 2018, the NextGen Consortium was first launched to develop a more sustainable disposable cup, but the project has grown to include a push toward broader solutions for the pervasive packaging pollution problem.
That push included the pilot of a reusable container system in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2019-2020. From that, the consortium published an open-source report with learnings on developing reusable packaging systems.
Now the consortium has gone on to work with papermills, recyclers and municipalities on improving recycling systems across the country.
Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, said the foodservice industry must double down on efforts to solve the mounting waste problem, which is a climate change issue on a number of fronts.
“The circular economy is intertwined with climate because extraction is greenhouse gas generating and carbon intense. In addition, throwing this waste into landfills emits greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change,” said Daly.
The goal is to look at the foodservice packaging ecosystem holistically to identify the best solutions.
For restaurant operators, the effort comes at a time when the policy landscape for waste diversion is rapidly evolving region by region. And with a global shipping crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, many across the restaurant industry are struggling to find any type of to-go packaging, much less sustainable options.
All the more reason to develop more resilient circular models in which materials are reused and recycled, said Daly. And there will not likely be one quick fix.
“We have found it essential to support a spectrum of solutions that are both in early and established stages of growth so we can be agile,” she said. “The policy landscape is changing so quickly both in the U.S and globally, it increases the urgency of testing an entire system of solutions.”
The Starbucks/McDonald’s investment indicates recognition of that urgent need, she said. But key to that is the industry-wide collaboration the consortium represents. Other partners include JDE Peet’s and Yum Brands Inc., for example.
With the additional funding, the NextGen Consortium will continue to expand efforts to strengthen the sustainable packaging ecosystem, Daly said.
This will include more customer research and testing of reusable packaging systems, exploring the use of other packaging materials, and accelerating the development of more sustainable packaging options and the infrastructure needed to recover and recycle those materials.
For example, Daly said the consortium is looking at the use of polypropylene, or PP, a more-rigid plastic for which there is a market as a recycled material. There is demand, but not enough volume collected to process for that demand, said Daly. So the consortium is working with recycling groups to develop grants to improve PP recycling.
For Starbucks and McDonald’s, the investment coincides with internal sustainability goals.
Starbucks, for example, has pledged to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50% by 2030, said Michael Kobori, the Seattle-based chain’s chief sustainability officer. The coffeehouse chain has been a forerunner in testing and implementing the use of reusable cups to replace single-use disposable
“There has never been a more critical time for industry collaboration to shift away from single-use packaging, promote reusability and champion recyclability,” he said in a statement. “We are thrilled to continue our work with the NextGen Consortium to drive sustainable solutions for our planet.”
McDonald’s, likewise, has committed to sourcing 100% of guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources, and to recycle guest packaging in all restaurants by 2025.
The chain is also moving away from virgin fossil-fuel plastics in its Happy Meal Toys and has pledged to eliminate potential toxic chemicals from its packaging by 2025.
And Wendy’s move to more recyclable cups is also an example of steps taken to divert waste from landfills. The chain estimates the cup switch will divert 10 million pounds of waste over the first two years as the brand works toward use of more recyclable plastic across its cup set.
Daly praised the move.
“All of the innovations the brand partners are advancing are important parts of a larger collective ecosystem effort to identify the best solutions,” she said.
A major industry group is urging Congress to adopt a national recycled plastic standard, facilitate “rapid scaling” of the chemical recycling sector, and more.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) on July 13 published an outline of five actions the organization believes Congress should take to increase plastics recovery. It follows ACC’s move last fall to support packaging fees to improve the U.S. recycling system.
The association said its members, among which are large prime plastic producers, “believe that new federal policies are essential to develop a means for valuable and highly efficient plastic material to be reused again and again rather than treated as waste, thus enabling a more circular economy for plastics.”
At least 30% recycled content by 2030
First on the ACC list is a call for a federal policy requiring all plastic packaging to include at least 30% recycled plastic by 2030 through a “national recycled plastics standard.”
Getting to that point, however, requires additional steps, ACC noted. The organization estimated the 30% figure would require 13 billion pounds of recycled plastic to be recovered annually, and that level of supply is not currently available. (The report doesn’t specify whether the 30% mandate would cover post-consumer, post-industrial or both types of recycled content.)
The organization pointed to a recent analysis from ICIS, which concluded that chemical recycling (sometimes termed “advanced recycling”) will be “essential to meet ambitious recycling targets” such as the U.S. EPA’s national recycling goal of 50% by 2030.
“Mechanical recycling will need to continue to expand and new advanced recycling facilities will need to be built for America to improve its recycling rate and increase the amount of recycled plastic in packaging,” the organization wrote.
ACC calls on Congress to enact federal regulations similar to rules adopted in 14 states that ease the regulatory framework for chemical recycling plants. Louisiana was the latest state to adopt such a policy.
“Thirty-six U.S. states still have outdated policies that could regulate advanced recycling as ‘waste disposal’ rather than manufacturing,” the organization wrote. “Doing so sends entrepreneurs down the wrong regulatory pathway for siting a facility, making it more difficult for companies to make investments and deploy advanced recycling technologies.”
ACC previously called on Congress to reject the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, in part because the bill includes a pause on new chemical recycling facility development.
All material types treated equal?
The report also calls for national plastics recycling standards to create a more consistent recycling system across the country, and it recommends a full life cycle analysis of all materials to ensure policies are “developed based on data and science, not ideology.”
Finally, it urges Congress to enact an “American-designed producer responsibility system.” Such a program should cover all packaging materials rather than picking specific material types, the organization wrote. Collected funds would be “reinvested solely to help expand efficient collection and sorting and enable recycling systems, while capitalizing on existing infrastructure,” ACC wrote.
The recommendations drew quick condemnation from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, which described the outline as a “plan to continue endless plastic production.”
“Recycling has been the plastic industry’s best friend, despite all of its failures, for decades,” Greenpeace noted in a statement. “The ACC knows well that this is not a plan to end plastic waste, as it claims, but rather a plan for industry to continue producing plastics for as long as possible.”
In 2018, ACC announced a series of objectives around plastics sustainability, including a goal of recovering 100% of plastic packaging by 2040.
LyondellBasell and our mechanical recycling joint venture Quality Circular Polymers (QCP) are working with Unilever, a leading global consumer goods company, to develop packaging materials made from recycled plastic waste for Unilever’s newly introduced Dove roll on and Rexona deodorant product lines. For these two applications alone, it is estimated that 940 metric tons of post-consumer resins will replace previously used fossil-based resins in 2021. The packaging for both deodorants can be recycled after use.
LyondellBasell, QCP and Unilever have collaborated for several years to develop sustainable solutions that do not compromise quality and meet Unilever’s ambitious target to reduce use of virgin plastic in packaging by half; ensure 100% of plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025; and help collect and process more plastic packaging than the company sells by 2025.
Approximately 65 editors and business journalists registered and logged in to the first virtual SÜDPACK press conference on 7 July 2021. The film manufacturer deliberately chose the digital format in order to provide both the national and international press with comprehensive information about “Sustainability at SÜDPACK” even during the corona pandemic. The first virtual SÜDPACK exhibition also launched at the same time and its digital doors are now open to customers and interested parties around the clock, 365 days a year.
Tray sealing specialist Proseal says it is perfectly positioned to help food producers explore options for alternative packaging materials. The company has worked closely with both tray and film suppliers to stay ahead of the demand from retailers and consumers for environmentally friendly solutions and has a proven track record with many alternative formats now available in the market following the work Proseal has done.
Shareholder advocacy firm As You Sow submitted a proposal requesting shareholders vote to have Amazon issue a report on packaging materials, citing the ocean plastics crisis that fatally impacting marine species and damages marine ecosystems.
“Amazon does not disclose how much plastic packaging it uses but is believed to be one of the largest corporate users of flexible plastic packaging, which cannot be recycled,” according to the proposal.
As You So alleged that Amazon has no goal to make all of its packaging recyclable and said up to 22 million pounds of its plastic packaging waste entered the world’s marine ecosystems last year.
“Shareholders request that the board of directors issue a report by December 2021 on plastic packaging, estimating the amount of plastics released to the environment due to plastic packaging attributable to all Amazon operations, and beginning with the manufacture of the plastic source materials, through disposal or recycling, and describing any company strategies or goals to reduce the use of plastic packaging to reduce these impacts.”
Amazon countered by noting its initiatives and its founding membership in The Climate Pledge, as well as its commitment that 50% of all Amazon shipments will be net-zero carbon by 2030, and renewable energy programs that “have put us on a path to powering our operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025.”
“We recognize the importance of reducing plastic waste by promoting reusable and recyclable packaging. As described in more detail below, including with respect to our goals, we have made progress in four primary areas in our efforts to reduce our use of plastics:
(1) plastics in packaging for products manufactured by other companies that we sell to our customers (where we can make the biggest impact),
(2) plastics in packaging to the extent we repackage a product for delivery,
(3) plastics in Amazon devices and our private label products, and
(4) plastics in physical stores, primarily Whole Foods Market and its use of plastic shopping bags and plastic straws.”
Amazon said it has a goal of having the packaging for Amazon devices be plastic-free and made up of entirely curbside recyclable material by 2023. “We will continue to share our efforts and progress to our shareholders and the public,” and the Board recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal.