Fast-food companies are pushing back against European Union proposals to require all restaurants to use reusable materials for serving dine-in customers, warning that early experiences with reuse aren’t promising.
McDonald’s said that after spending years reducing the use of environmentally harmful plastics in its restaurants by focusing on recycling and recyclable packaging, the EU plan would amount to a reversal.
“We’ve basically eliminated plastic from our restaurants,” Jon Banner, the global chief impact officer for McDonald’s, said in a recent interview. “Now, as a result of reuse, we’re going to have to end up reintroducing plastic to our restaurants with the goal of having it be reused and reused and reused.”
McDonald’s has experimented with offering reusable cups in several European countries, and says that many of them simply disappear. That’s the case in Germany, where customers who select reusable materials pay a $2.10 deposit, but only 40% of cups return to restaurants.
The initial results in the Netherlands are even more discouraging, with only 25% coming back despite a $1.06 deposit.
Currently, nearly all — 94% — of the company’s packaging in Europe is fiber-based, mostly from wood fibers. Plastic is still used in liners for hot and cold cups, but McDonald’s is developing a plastic-free cup too, Banner said.
Last year, the EU’s executive arm proposed sweeping rules that would mandate widespread use of reusable materials, even for takeaway food. This spring, although the targets for takeaway packaging were stripped out in the parliament’s latest version, the proposal would still includes mandates for food consumed inside quick-service restaurants.
The European Parliament’s environment committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Oct. 24. Once the full parliament approves, it becomes the parliament’s official negotiating position. EU member states are still developing their own position, which means a final law is likely several months away at the earliest.