With the restaurant industry currently being reinvented with to-go-first experiences in mind, there’s cause to worry that the shift will add even more single-use cups, straws, and boxes to our already bulging landfills. So it makes for a small silver lining that McDonald’s today announced a partnership with Terracycle’s zero-waste platform Loop to pilot a reusable cup model.
The program will first be trialed at select McDonald’s in the UK in 2021. For a small deposit, customers will get a reusable Loop cup for their hot beverages. The deposit can be redeemed by returning the cup to any participating McDonald’s location, according to today’s press release. Loop will retrieve the used cups, wash them, and return them to the cycle.
As to whether this reusable cup program will make its way to the States, a McDonald’s spokesperson said, “The feedback collected through these packaging trials will help inform which options are scaled up or adopted in other countries around the world.”
Loop’s main business lets customers shop online for grocery, household, and beauty products from well-known brands, then get them delivered in packaging. Living up to the platform’s name, Loop retrieves and cleans the empty containers once a customer is finished, and the cycle starts again. The company currently has partnerships with Häagen-Dazs, Tropicana, Nature’s Path Organic, and several well-known personal care brands. The service is available in select U.S. cities and is in the process of expanding to more places, including international locations.
The McDonald’s partnership comes at a time when the fight for a more sustainable restaurant has to co-exist alongside the fight against COVID-19. Some chains, notably Starbucks, have banned reusable cups for the time being, (understandably) citing safety concerns. But the sustainability issue can’t be put on hold for long, particularly since the increase in to-go orders could eventually equal an alarming increase in trash, too.
Whether you love big restaurant chains or fear they’ll be the only ones left after the dust from the restaurant industry upheaval settles, it’s worth acknowledging that they’re typically the ones with the deep enough pockets to invest in new forms of to-go containers. For its part, McDonald’s has already piloted other circular solutions for cups, including the Recup system in Germany and the chain’s participation in the NextGen Cup Challenge in the U.S.
Earlier this year, the company also completed construction on its first “net zero energy-designed restaurant” in Florida. At the time of that news, I wrote that billion-plus-dollar restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle, etc. are the ones that need to take the lead in writing the playbook for sustainability in the restaurant. Smaller restaurants — the ones that have managed to survive the fallout — still struggle to remain open, so it seems unreasonable right now to ask them to also reinvent the paper cup.
McDonald’s, on the other hand, has a $4 billion off-premises business and a recent track record that’s heavy on the innovation front. Using some of those dollars and resources to create a more sustainable restaurant experience seem the next logical step.