McDonald's Waste Reduction Task Force

On August 1, 1990, the McDonald's Corporation and Environmental Defense joined forces in a unique collaborative project. They worked together to develop ways to reduce McDonald's solid waste through source reduction, reusing, recycling, and composting. The Waste Reduction Action Plan consisted of 42 discrete initiatives, pilot projects, and tests to be attempted within the next 2 years. The task force wanted to produce the maximum rates of reduction in McDonald's solid waste, including materials discarded behind-the-counter and by customers in the restaurant lobby, disposable packaging used in take out business, and the distribution and supply system. The environmental defense members worked in a McDonald's restaurant for a day to locate which items needed to be improved. They decided to endorse the task of switching from polystyrene foam to paper-based wraps for packaging sandwich items. They wanted to cut waste by replacing disposable containers and products with reusable bulk storage systems. They also wanted to test reusable shipping containers for condiment packets, durable shipping pallets in distribution centers, reusable coffee filters, and pump-style condiment dispensers in place of individual packets. In 1991, McDonald's assessed coated and un-coated paper food-contact items in 30 different restaurants. The waste reduction action plan defined the company's waste reduction activities, initiatives, and the department's responsibility for the implementation and management mechanisms that ensure integration into McDonald's standard operating procedures. McDonald's senior environmental affairs officer regularly reports to the board of directors on progress toward the company's waste reduction goals. According to McDonalds they are committed to recycling everything, including behind-the-counter and over-the-counter waste materials. McDonalds is also committed to timely, honest, and forthright communications with their customers, shareholders, suppliers and employees.

December 21, 1999 marked the tenth anniversary of McDonald's USA and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and their groundbreaking alliance in 1989. Their partnership has replaced polystyrene foam sandwich clamshells with paper wraps, and light-weight recycled boxed, replaced bleached with unbleached paper carry-out bags, and made dozens of other packaging improvements behind-the-counter in McDonalds restaurants and throughout the company's supply chain. The results of the task force far exceeded their expectations and original goals. What started as a cautious venture for both parties, ended in a successful partnership. The task force produced a Corporate Waste Reduction Policy and a comprehensive Waste Reduction Action Plan, both, which have shown great results. Since 1991, the team eliminated 150,000 tons of McDonald's packaging, purchased more then 3 billion dollars worth of products made from recycled materials, and recycled more than 2 million tons of corrugated cardboard. This commitment from McDonalds has decreased restaurant waste by 30%. McDonald's now uses reusable plastic trays for holding sandwich buns in place of corrugated containers and large steel canisters for storing coke in place of cartons. The wraps provided a 70-90% reduction in packaging volume resulting in less space consumed in landfills. After receiving such substantial results from the waste reduction project, McDonald’s announced the further expansion with EDF and other outside experts to set goals by Earth Day 2000 to reduce energy us in restaurants, with a target of at least 10% reduction, compared to 1999., "When we launched our alliance ten years ago, I don't believe either one of us could have imagined the scope of the results we are announcing today," Jack Greenberg said. "Working with EDF, McDonalds is proud of the tangible difference we have made for the environment in just ten years." Their Landmark project showed both business and environmental activists that they can share the path toward a more sustainable society.
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