Fast food chains face many negative optics. Most important, of course, is that burgers and fries or even burritos filled with long-lasting ingredients (which include cheese, sour cream, and guacamole) aren’t very good for you.
You may make better choices at some fast food chains than at others, but at this kind of restaurant, your salad probably includes bacon, ranch dressing and, maybe, fried chicken.
On top of that, fast food giants like Restaurant Brands International (RSQ) – Get Restaurant Brands International Inc report Burger King and its McDonald’s rivals (MCD) – Get McDonald’s Corporation report and Wendy’s (MAGNIFYING GLASS) – Get Wendy’s Business Report have been dealing with complaints about their packaging for a long time. These chains once used foam shells, packaging that came under heavy fire in the late 1980s.
These wrappers kept the sandwiches and chicken nuggets warm, or at least did a better job than the current, more environmentally friendly wrappers. (No packaging has been able to make fast food fries more portable.) Yet the industry changed when public pressure grew strong enough.
The same thing happened with cups and straws. Changes have been made, but the solutions are generally better for the planet, not quite good for it. And as anyone who has used a paper straw knows, sometimes they can be woefully inadequate for the job.
Today, Burger King offers a new take on takeout packaging. It’s ambitious and could become the new industry standard. And it also seems likely to fail miserably.
What does Burger King do?
While many chains have tried to make their packaging recyclable, Burger King has gone further – and perhaps a bit too far. The fast food giant has trialled reusable and returnable packaging in some of its UK stores, The Guardian reported.
This is a trial scheme where customers will pay a fee (£1 or $1.26) for the use of takeout containers and drink cups which they can return in special bins through a partnership with Loop.
The chain also conducted a similar trial with Loop – the Terrebonne, Quebec, producer of rechargeable versions of single-use products – in New York, Portland and Tokyo.
“As part of our Restaurant Brands for Good plan, we are investing in the development of sustainable packaging solutions that will help move the restaurant industry forward in reducing packaging waste,” said Matthew Banton, sustainability at Burger King.
Scroll to continue
“The Loop system gives us confidence in a reusable solution that meets our high security standards, while providing convenience for our customers on the go.”
It’s a novel idea, but it’s also one that depends on customers actually returning the packaging to a drop-off point. This seems somewhat at odds with the idea that fast food is supposed to be convenient.
In the UK trial, “customers can return the packaging with the Loop app by scanning the barcode on the packaging and putting it in a Loop bin,” reported The Guardian.
“These will be placed outside restaurants where testing is taking place and in other locations found through the app. Customers who return their containers will be refunded their deposit, with all items professionally cleaned. “
Burger King wants to be greener
And while Burger King might not be the first chain you think of when it comes to the environment – Chipotle (GCM) – Get the Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. report. and Starbucks (SBUX) – Get the Starbucks Corporation report are probably – the company has a long-term plan.
Burger King has a long-term commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. This includes having 100% of customer packaging come from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025. It has also committed to recycling customer packaging in 100% of restaurants in Canada and the United States by 2025. .
This program would advance those efforts, but it assumes that customers will participate. (The plan is very similar to Starbucks’ efforts to eliminate single-use cups.)
“During covid, we’ve seen the environmental impact of increased take-out orders, which makes this Burger King initiative all the more important,” said TerraCycle and Loop General Manager Tom Szaky.
“This makes it easy for Burger King consumers to incorporate reuse into their daily lives, and whether they choose to eat in or take out, they will be able to get some of their favorite foods and beverages in a reusable container.”
It’s the “easily” part of that sentence that this whole program is based on. Not dumping your trash on the side of the road is also easy, but hey, look at just about any road.
And while Burger King has the best intentions here, in the immortal words of environmental activist, variety show host and Sesame Street contributor Kermit the Frog, “it’s not easy being green.”