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McDonald’s and Starbucks increase investment in reusable packaging and fiber-based recyclability

October 23, 2021
Food & Drink

McDonald’s and Starbucks are committing an additional US$10 million to the NextGen Consortium, an initiative aiming to improve environmental sustainability standards in the foodservice industry.

Founded by investment firm Closed Loop Partners, the Consortium is investigating methods of advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of packaging materials.

Speaking to PackagingInsights, Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, says the new investments will enable the Consortium to “deepen its customer research and testing of reusable packaging systems, and explore the circularity of additional packaging materials such as polypropylene.”

“[The Consortium] will also accelerate the development of more widely recyclable and compostable fiber-based packaging solutions and aid the development of infrastructure pathways needed for their recovery.”

Reusable revolution
A key project for the Consortium has been to trial reusable cups in quick-service restaurants (QSR) like McDonald’s, the results of which were released this year.

Daly says the investments will expand on these findings, and look for similar solutions to improve sustainability in the QSR space.

“Based on the successes of the NextGen Consortium’s work over the last three years in catalyzing innovative cup alternatives and unlocking critical infrastructure pathways for increased materials recovery, we are now looking to further identify, accelerate and scale commercially viable, circular and global foodservice packaging solutions,” she says.

Innova Market Insights pegged “Reusable Revolution” as a top trend for 2021, noting the shift away from single-use consumption to reuse as a key strategy for material savings.

The NextGen Cup Challenge
The funding comes following an industry challenge, in which the Consortium invited designers to innovate and present on-the-go beverage cups that could reduce the environmental footprint of single-use formats.

After receiving 480 submissions, NextGen selected 12 winning designs. “The goal was to source compostable, recyclable and/or reusable cup solutions and the winners fell into three broad innovation categories,” explains Daly.

Reusable cup service models: Winning companies CupClub, reCup and Muuse made reusable cups that “remain in service by harnessing the power of technology and design.”
Innovative cup and cup liners: Winning company Ceer Schisler, Colombier Group, Footprint US, Kotkamills Oy, PTT MCC Biochem Company, Solenis, Sun Chemical and WestRock are “rethinking the polyethylene plastic liners in cups that can currently make to-go cups difficult to recycle.”
New materials: Winning company Soluble uses plant-based materials to achieve compostability.
Collaboration for conservancy
Part of the project’s aim is to mitigate packaging waste’s impact on ocean pollution. Starbucks also recently partnered with marine conservation non-profit Ocean Conservancy, aiming to raise US$1 million through a reusable cup scheme.

Similarly, McDonald’s partnered with TerraCycle’s Loop platform to pilot reusable cups in UK restaurants, continuing to make progress in ensuring its packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources.

“The reuse models of today look different, harnessing technology to create smart systems that provide transparency for the user and user analytics for the producer, bringing value to brands, customers and eventually end markets,” says Daly.

“Through the NextGen Consortium, we have tested and piloted a number of reusable cup solutions over the last three years and will continue to deepen our research and execute additional tests across different geographic contexts and environments to help prepare solutions for scale.”

Reusable the right way?
According to some experts, foodservice packaging innovations focusing on reusable models may not be as environmentally sustainable as recycling alternatives.

Recently, experts at Metsä Board told PackagingInsights Life Cycle Assessments show single-use fiber-based packaging used in QSR for in-store use results in “very significant” environmental benefits compared to reusable models.

Reusable tableware systems have been found to generate significantly more CO2-equivalent emissions than paper-based single-use systems and consume more freshwater.

By Louis Gore-Langton


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