McDonald’s recycling and waste management ‘insufficient’, says French report

McDonald’s France has been taken to task by Zero Waste France (ZWF) over its ‘insufficient’ recycling and waste management methods, with the organisation calling on fast food companies to transform transparency over their packaging waste.

The fast food giant was singled out for particular criticism in the NGO’s report, ‘McDonald’s: A waste policy at odds with the circular economy’ (‘McDonald’s: Une politique déchets à contre-courant de l’économie circulaire’), which uses the case of McDonald’s to offer a wider critique of the fast food industry.

ZWF reports that globally McDonald's uses nearly 2.8 tonnes of packaging every minute, representing nearly 1.5 million tonnes of packaging per year, while in France alone McDonald’s restaurants use 115 tonnes of packaging every day – almost 42,000 tonnes a year – consisting of a lower and lower recycled materials content.

Only 25 per cent of waste produced by the company’s French restaurants in 2015 was recycled, down from 26.5 per cent in 2013. The proportion of organic waste in McDonald's total waste also increased from 13 per cent to 20.3 per cent between 2013 and 2015.

The report states that ‘as the leading fast food chain, the world's number one franchisor, the world's second largest private employer, the world's leading toy distributor (via Happy Meals) and one of the leading foodservice customers, McDonald's has a great impact on the global economy, but also the environment.’

While the performance of France’s chains are criticised in the report, it does acknowledge that other countries performance better, with neighbouring European countries Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands reporting recycling rates of over 90 per cent. 

McDonald’s was also criticised in the report for only publishing ‘partial figures’ on its recycling rate. ZWF Director Flore Berlingen said: “Since 2016, anyone producing more than 10 tonnes of organic waste a year is obliged to sort and recycle it, but McDonald’s does not publish this information on its restaurants, obscuring the reality of the situation.”

The resource efficiency NGO called on McDonald’s, and the wider French fast food industry, to publish its recycling figures, introduce on-site sorting of organic waste and paper and cardboard packaging, provide reusable drinks containers and cutlery in its restaurants, and encourage customers to bring their own bag to carry away their takeaway meal.

McDonald’s France has not responded directly to the criticisms leveled at it in the report, but a spokesperson for the restaurant chain indicated that its restaurants “sort and recycle delivery packaging and used cooking oil” which goes on to make bio-fuels, while the selective sorting of waste was being “progressively” rolled out across its branches in France and that 500 of its restaurants are actively working to combat “packaging littering in partnership with local communities”.

McDonald’s recycling and waste management ‘insufficient’, says French reportBerlingen added: “McDonald’s France points out that it recycles cooking oil, but this is a legal obligation, while as for the rest, they are dragging their feet while much more is being done in other countries.”

Fighting waste

It is hardly surprising to see McDonald’s and the wider fast food industry criticized for its wasteful practices in France, given the increasing action against waste being carried out in the country, with the French Parliament banning supermarkets from throwing away unsold food or spoiling unsold food with chemicals last February.

The criticisms and recommendations made by Zero Waste in its report mirror those made by the UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee concerning supermarkets in the UK last month (30 April), entitled ‘Food Waste in England’.

The report called for large food retailers to publish their food waste figures, which only Tesco and Sainsbury’s did for 2015/16, and relax rules on the sale of ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables. The report also called for government to introduce statutory food waste reduction targets.

The committee stated that, in the UK, the average family spends £470 a year on food that is later thrown away, while the retail industry is responsible for 200,000 tonnes of food waste each year.

All quotes have been translated from the original French.

The full ‘Une politique déchets à contre-courant de l’économie circulaire’ report can be read in French on Zero Waste France’s website.

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