Burger King Debuts Reusable Packaging Program

Photo: Burger King, Wikimedia CC

By Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

Burger King recently announced a new renewable packaging partnership with Loop, a “circular packaging” service that aims to create a “closed-loop” system of washable and reusable packaging in the food industry. Customers will be able to opt in to receive the new packaging for a small deposit at pilot locations and are encouraged to return the packaging to claim their deposit. The company hopes the program will create a sustainable and engaging alternative to recycling.

Why This Matters: The United States has one of the worst recycling rates of any developed nation, recycling only 50% of the packaging used. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), less than 14% of plastic packaging in the U.S. is recycled, and food packaging is responsible for up to 260,000 tons of plastic pollution found in oceans, harming wildlife and ecosystems. Plastic waste kills up to one million sea birds per year, and, as plastic breaks down, more animals are found to have ingested microplastics. This impacts the entire food chain and microplastics have been found in seafood consumed by humans.

How To Improve Recycling

The United States’ scant recycling infrastructure, NRDC says, could be expanded if companies that produce large volumes of packaging made a larger effort to account for the full life cycle of the waste they produce. Peter Lehner, former executive director at NRDC, notes that many companies offer recyclable or “sustainable” packaging, but very few offer customers recycling or compost bins.

Loop, which is owned by TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based recycling contractor, offers packaging and products that can be efficiently cleaned and reused. One benefit of the “closed-loop” system is that it, in theory, will create no waste at all, eliminating the need for trash or recycling bins entirely. Loop has been dubbed the 21st Century Milk Man by CNN, highlighting that, while seemingly revolutionary, the return and reuse process has been done before, and done well. NRDC emphasizes that switching to reusable products is more effective than recycling at limiting waste.

Making reusable products easily accessible to the public may help to encourage green behaviors and reduce waste. Burger King plans to make the service available for both eat-in and carryout, making reusable products more accessible during COVID-19, as eat-in attendance is limited nationwide. Loop and Burger King assure customers that the cleaning process for the reusable packaging is thorough and that the exchange of packaging will not put consumers at risk of COVID-19.

Industry Trends

Burger King will be rolling out Loop’s reusable container program in select New York, Portland, Ore., and Tokyo locations. Matthew Banton, Head of Innovation and Sustainability for Burger King Global believes that programs like this one will help accelerate the fast-food -industry toward a greener future. “We’re investing in the development of sustainable packaging solutions that will help push the foodservice industry forward in reducing packaging waste,” he said. McDonald’s and several grocery retailers in the US and UK have previously partnered with Loop to test similar programs. The experimental programs come at a time when many fast food companies have made pledges to reduce or even eliminate all packaging waste in the next decade.

Burger King has pledged to “continuously review our policies on animal welfare, sourcing, and environmental impact to ensure that we remain good corporate citizens in the communities we serve,” but the company has yet to make any specific commitments.

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