The Road Ahead

It’s hard to fathom that in this day of almost non-stop discussion in the packaging industries concerning the importance of sustainability, there remain many consumer goods companies and retailers that operate woefully underperforming environmental programs. But that is exactly the information presented in a new study from As You Sow, an organization dedicated to increasing environmental and social corporate responsibility, and The Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environmental organization.

The study examined the current packaging practices of three sectors with particular attention provided to quick service restaurants (QSRs, or “fast food”). The study found, surprisingly, that most companies have not sufficiently prioritized packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content, and recycling policies.

In terms of the ‘fast food’ segment, the report found that most companies have a long way to go in terms of their sustainability efforts. Starbucks was found to be the leader for packaging sustainability with McDonald’s second. But most companies fell into the ‘needs improvement’ category (Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Panera), while many others were rated as ‘poor’ (Arby’s, Quizno’s, Burker King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, and Papa John’s Pizza).

The report declares that the four pillars of packaging stewardship include source reduction, recycled content, recyclability and material use, and materials recycling.

In terms of source reduction, the report cited Starbucks as a leader with its commitment to serve 25 percent of all beverages in its stores in reuseable mugs or tumblers in 2015, a goal it had to substantially reduce due to tracking problems.

Both McDonald’s and Starbucks have made strides in recycled content. McDonald’s uses 33 percent post-consumer recycled content in paperboard sandwich boxes and Starbucks uses 10 percent in coffee cups.

The report analyzed 47 companies and found that none are doing enough to make their packaging more sustainable. The United States only recycled half of packaging discards (and only 34.5 percent of all municipal waste), lagging behind other developed countries.


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