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International McDonald’s fans are loving the chain’s new reusable containers

American McDonald’s customers are sharing their excitement over an eco-friendly change making its way to select US restaurants.

McDonald’s eaters across the globe are used to collecting their burgers in paper wrapping, their fries in cardboard, and their drink in a styrofoam cup – even if they’re dining inside a McDonald’s restaurant.

However, this may become a thing of the past.

One American diner said there were reusable containers available at their local McDonald’s for dine-in meals only, in a viral post shared to the subreddit r/mildlyinteresting.

The photo shows a return tub, filled with an assortment of red, yellow and clear containers. It’s the first sighting of the program in the US.

However, the reusable packaging was trialled in France last year.

The trial came with much fanfare – even earning public praise from French President Emmanuel Macron.

The move is in compliance with France’s new ‘anti-waste’ law, which bans the use of disposable packaging and cutlery in fast food and casual dining establishments for eat-in meals.

The push towards reusable materials is Europe-wide, with the EU backing a ‘Green Deal’ that would see all food packaging made reusable or recyclable by 2030.

McDonald’s reusable system, now seen outside of Europe, appears poised for a global rollout.

The New Daily contacted McDonald’s to learn when reusable packaging would be seen in Australian stores, but did not hear back.

Paper or plastic?

Plastic containers and cups have an environmental cost: Plastics, while sturdy enough to reuse, are made using fossil fuels like oil and natural gas.

And when these materials are heated to mould plastic, toxins are again released into the air.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, about 100 million tonnes of plastics are produced on an annual basis – releasing an estimated 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

And the environmental impacts don’t stop there, says Dr Trevor Thornton, lecturer in hazardous materials management at Deakin University.

“Generally, when those plastics go to landfill, they take hundreds of years to break down [and] slowly release substances into the environment,” Dr Thornton said.

There are also additional resources – including detergent and hot water (which requires energy to heat) – required to constantly clean and sanitise the items, which can also damage the environment.

Still a step forward

All things considered, Dr Thornton said McDonald’s system would have a net-positive impact, given the fast food giant finds a way to responsibly manage its system.

“The shift to reusable is generally better overall, as long as it’s considered how they’re going to clean it,” he said.

“It’s all about, not just providing these [options], it’s making sure that the collection system is good.”

Although people will likely go through a phase of taking home and collecting the containers – as has been reported in France – hopefully “we’ll get through that,” Dr Thornton said.

“But I think if it is for that dining option, then that’s probably a good thing, because then people will put it in the right containers for them to be washed.”

According to industry research, about 27 per cent of customers at fast food establishments eat at the restaurant.

This means McDonald’s could potentially eliminate a quarter of its packaging waste through a reusable container system.

“If you’re comparing the disposable or the single use versus the reusable, the reusable take a lot more combined in terms of resources, and energy and water and so forth. If you use them a sufficient number of times, that’s when they start to become better environmentally.”

‘Don’t use new resources’

Currently, most of Australia’s fast food outlets use paper containers and utensils.

But in order to truly be sustainable, Dr Thornton said these items should be made of recycled materials – and only distributed to customers on a need-to-use basis.

“Don’t use new resources. That’s probably one of the most important things to say,” he said.

“Close the loop, in terms of recycling, and make sure that they only provide packaging or the amount of packaging as needed.”

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Topics: McDonalds
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