McDonald’s Aims For Fully Recycled Packaging By 2025

Intent on being part of the solution, fast food giant McDonald’s has vowed to use sustainable packaging in 100% of its stores by 2025.  Currently only 10% of the 37,000 McDonald’s locations worldwide use recycled packaging for their food products, but they plan get all items like bags, straws, wrappers and cups from recycled or renewable materials, up from half currently.

Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer, says that customers number one demand was to make packaging more environmentally friendly.  In the UK, McDonald’s has already done away with Styrofoam packaging and more than 1,000 restaurants now have recycle bins. Even so, the world’s biggest restaurant chain said some restaurants might struggle to recycle packaging by 2025 due to varying infrastructure, regulations and customer behavior around the world.

McDonald’s is already taking large steps to achieve their goals, aiming for all its paper and card packaging, such as burger boxes or paper bags, to come from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs by 2020.  Hopefully more fast food chains will take a page out of McDonald’s environmentally friendly book and work to achieve similar goals.

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DuPont’s 2016 Awards for Packaging Innovation

For 28 years running, DuPont has rewarded excellence in the packaging industry with their annual Awards for Packaging Innovation. One of the world’s leading science and engineering companies, Dupont is responsible for the invention of nylon, Tyvek, and Kevlar, amongst others. Dedicated to tackling global challenges, the Packaging Innovation Awards specifically champion achievements across three categories: Responsible Packaging, Enhanced User Experience, and Technological Advancement.

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Up first as one recipient of DuPont’s Silver Award is Palladio Group’s PhutureMed™, in the Enhanced User Experience category. Chosen for ‘advancing patient safety,’ PhutureMed™ is “designed to monitor the quality of medicines shipped to patients and improve medication adherence of patients to prescribed drug therapies.” Every time the package is accessed, an entry is added to the time log. The log serves as a reminder for whether or not the patient has taken their medication (and also discourages tampering). This information can be vital for doctors, allowing doctors to monitor their patient’s care more accurately. Also built in is a temperature monitor, which will alert the user if the medication has ever gone above or below a designated range–it even works without battery power!

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One winner in the Gold Award category for both Technological Advancement and Enhanced User Experience was PHD Skincare’s Never Miss a Spot Technology, an ‘extended wand sunscreen applicator.’ The wand allows for easy spraying of hard to reach areas, while maintaining a uniform mist at any angle–this enables users to get even coverage without assistance. The sprayer could also easily be adapted to other products, such as fertilizers and insecticides.

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Receiving the highest honor as the sole recipient of the Diamond Award was Graham Packaging’s ThermaSet® Blow Molded PET Container. It excels across all three categories: Responsible Packaging, Enhanced User Experience, and Technological Advancement. Various design manipulations allow for far better than average thermal stability and increased wall strength. The container is also lightweight and shatter resistant, 100% recyclable, and produces a lower than average carbon footprint during manufacturing. The narrow, taller build also cuts down on valuable shelf storage in retail displays.

More information on all finalists and winners can be found here.

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Biodegradable, antimicrobial cling wrap packaging in the works

Singapore-based researches are in the process of developing a material comparable to plastic wrap that is biodegradable, anti-bacterial, and free from chemical additives. While they are still in the early stages of development, if everything pans out, this could be a promising development in the world of food packaging.

Due in part to an increasing consumer demand for environmentally-friendly packaging, researchers developed the new material–chitosan–by deriving it from the exoskeletons of shellfish, making it a natural and biodegradable polymer. In addition to its biodegradable benefits, the cling wrap is also non-toxic, and even naturally contains some antimicrobial and antifungal properties.chitosan-gfse-film-data.pngTo enhance the antibacterial properties of chitosan, the film was fortified with Grapefruit Seed Extract (GFSE), a natural antioxidant that “…possesses strong antiseptic, germicidal, antibacterial, fungicidal, and antiviral properties.” The team researched the combined effects by varying the amounts of GFSE present, and early testing found that average shelf life was increased by about two weeks as compared to standard plastic wrap.

If the project continues as the researchers hope, this could improve food safety, and consequently, reduce food waste. According to the World Resources Institute, nearly a quarter of all food calories produced is wasted. That being said, here’s to hoping their research ends with success!

Find out more about their research from their study, ‘Functional chitosan-based grapefruit seed extract composite films for applications in food packaging technology.’

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Have You Heard of Coffee Leaf Tea?

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Consumed in Ethiopia for more than 200 years, coffee leaf tea is exactly what it sounds―the leaves of coffee plants roasted and then brewed into tea. While coffee leaves barely contain any caffeine at all, they are believed to be more nutritious than both coffee and many blends of tea. They also have “…a clean and smooth flavour without the bitterness associated with conventional green and black teas.”

Wize Monkey is one of the companies currently popularizing the blend, and their goal is “to improve the livelihoods of coffee-dependent communities by harvesting a sustainable & healthy product.” Wize Monkey was founded by Max Rivest and Arnaud Petitvallet, who are both business school graduates from France with a focus on ethical practices and international sustainable development.

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Other than oil, coffee is the second largest industry in the world, worth approximately $15.4 billion in 2009/10. Even still, the coffee business is incredibly seasonal; coffee beans can only be harvested for 3 months out of the entire year. As a result, most workers cannot be kept on year-round. According to Wize Monkey’s site:

“In the last few years, the coffee market has become flooded and revenues have been plummeting for all coffee farmers worldwide. We figured that if the farmers could also sell coffee leaves, they could create a second source of income and help make ends meet. After three months of searching and meeting with dozens of organic farmers, we have come home to Vancouver BC with a one-of-a-kind revolutionary tea. Not only does it do your body some good, it does the farmers some awesome.”

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The good thing about coffee leaves is that they can be harvested year-round. Wize Monkey sources their leaves from one of the top coffee growers in Northern Nicaragua, who has over 18 years experience in the industry. This particular farm “pays workers 80% more than the industry average, which means more funds in the worker’s pockets to support their families…” If Wize Monkey is successful, coffee leaf tea could potentially provide long-lasting benefits to families and communities around the world that normally make a living selling coffee beans.

Curious about how you can try Wize Monkey’s coffee leaf tea for yourself? Their online shop has a preorder bundle available with shipment due for spring of 2015 (soon!), or a two sample pack.

Waste and Opportunity 2015: As You Sow

As You Sow, a sizable organization that works “to promote environmental and social corporate responsibility…” recently ran a report on the packaging industry’s overall performance in regards to sustainability and packaging. Their Waste and Opportunity 2015 analyzed the practices of several large companies and found that to varying degrees, they all “…are wasting valuable materials through poor packaging sustainability policies – to the tune of $11.4 billion a year.” Many of these companies do not take responsibility for their actions, either, as they are not only wasting valuable materials, but are also greatly contributing to pollution.

As You Sow’s report analyzed 47 major companies based on four core practices of sustainability, ranking them on their overall performance:

  1. Source Reduction: using less materials and switching to those which are reusable if the option is available.
  2. Recycled Content: using recycled content when creating new products, which they point out “…helps create a market for recycled materials and requires far fewer resources.
  3. Recyclability and Materials Use: avoidance of materials that cannot be recycled easily.
  4. Boosting Materials Recycling: when possible, make it easier for consumers to recycle products after use (this more so applies to brands which have established storefronts, where they can have designated recycling bins).

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States from 2012, some types of packaging materials are better than others. Recovery rates for plastics are extremely low–only 13.8% of these materials are recycled. Glass and aluminum are also moderately poor, at 34.1% and 38%, respectively. Paper and paperboard products ranked the highest, at 76.1%, though they note that these rates are skewed “…primarily due to high recycling rates for corrugated cardboard; only 25 percent of all other types of paper packaging is recycled.” Steel packaging does moderately well: 72.2% of these materials are able to be recovered.

As You Sow highlights how their core practices of sustainability can be put into use in both the fast food restaurant and consumer packaged goods markets, and gives examples for each:

For fast food restaurants, reusable cups and dining-ware should be available (like at Panera and Starbucks). Use of recycled content should be maximized (Starbucks and McDonald’s), and companies should entirely avoid materials that are difficult to recycle (like the foam cups from Chick-fil-A).

As for consumer packaged goods, more reusable and bulk options should be made available, and goals should be set to increase the use of recycled content (PepsiCo is off to a good start, while Coca-Cola is lagging behind). Companies should also be designing packaging that is easy to recycle: Capri Sun is a very common bad example in this department.

In their 5 key actions brands must take to drive packaging sustainability, As You Sow points out that brands should be disclosing their production information on the creation of packaging that we don’t have very much information on (like plastic pouches), stating simply that “what gets measured can get managed.” They also note that “some companies generate millions in revenue recycling corrugated cardboard,” and brands who do not already should be capitalizing on this. Lastly, if companies do feel the need to be using materials that are hard to recycle, they should be working with processors “…to develop new, cost-effective recycling processes to ensure they are recycled. All brands need to fund new investments in materials market development…”

As You Sow says it best: “It’s time for companies to step up and take the lead on recycling.”

4 Unique Sustainable Packaging Options

1. Method’s ‘Ocean Plastic’ soap bottle

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Working alongside their recycling partner Envision Plastics, Method has created the first bottles made from ocean plastic. According to Method, “there are more than 100 million tons of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean alone.” With the help of local volunteers, Method has collected over 1 ton of plastic from Hawaiian beaches. The bottles are then created from a blend of ocean and post-consumer recycled plastic.

2. Tetra Rex 100% renewable carton

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TetraPak is on a “mission to make a 100% renewable carton.” While getting to that goal isn’t easy, it seems they’ve finally managed to create “…the industry’s first carton made entirely from plant based, renewable packaging materials.” Any films and caps used to keep the product fresh are derived from sugar cane, while the body is also a plant-based paperboard. In early 2015, they’ll be giving their Tetra Rex package (currently made from 85% renewable materials) an upgrade, bringing the 100% renewable version to consumers.

3. The Alfred Cone (of Alfred Coffee & Kitchen in Los Angeles, CA)

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Instead of wasting resources on materials like foam and paper for your coffee cups, why not make your packaging edible? That’s what Alfred Coffee & Kitchen in Los Angeles has done with their “Alfred Cone,” Made by Zia Valentina at a local farmers market. The Alfred Cone is a 4oz waffle cone, with an interior chocolate lining (1. for flavor, and presumably 2. to keep it from leaking everywhere).

4. LifeBox

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Instead of recycling or throwing your packaging away, plant it! Made from post-consumer recycled cardboard, the LifeBox has seeds embedded throughout. Don’t worry–“The Tree Life Box™ only contains native and non-invasive species. It is only for sale within the continental U.S. and Canada because the tree seed mix consists of species that are native to the bioregions of the continental U.S. and Canada.” They’ve also been sure to obtain any necessary permits and licenses! Unfortunately, the LifeBox is only available for wholesale orders of at least 100 units.