Sustainability | June 2014 | By Korsha Wilson

McDonald’s Lesson in Recycling

Brand partners with recycling label program to drive sustainability message.
Quick service restaurant McDonald's added recycling message to packaging.
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McDonald’s and GreenBlue, an environmental nonprofit that helps businesses implement sustainable practices, partnered to help customers nationwide better understand recycling. The brand became the largest restaurant chain to label its packaging with the How2Recycle label from GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

“Currently, recycling efforts in our restaurants are focused behind the counter,” says Susan Forsell, vice president of sustainability for McDonald’s USA, in an email. “The How2Recycle program provides our customers the opportunity to recycle McDonald’s packaging at home and elsewhere.”

The new How2Recycle label offers information such as what material the packaging is made from, what component can be recycled, if it needs to be rinsed, and if it is recyclable in all communities.

Dan Schneider, CEO of SIB Development and Consulting, a firm that helps restaurants reduce costs by evaluating recyclability, says the new labels are a good move for McDonald’s. “They’re being a corporate good guy, so that’s good,” he says. However, the move likely won’t impact the company’s bottom line or decrease waste output, he says.

The label’s goal is transparency, says Kelly Lahvic, research and outreach associate for GreenBlue. “Recycling is not going to work if the recycling stream is contaminated,” she says. How2Recycle labels give customers directions to avoid this.

For McDonald’s, the labels are part of new sustainability efforts, which have included using fewer packaging materials and using fiber sourcing, Forsell says.