A “Drive-Thru” sign stands outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Phoenix on Oct. 21, 2017. (Bloomberg photo by Caitlin O’Hara)

McDonald’s to test its first ‘recycling-friendly’ restaurant in B.C.

One location in Vancouver, B.C. and another in London, Ont. will be piloted

Two McDonald’s Canada restaurants will soon be testbeds for the company’s greener packaging initiatives, serving wooden cutlery, paper straws and other recycling-friendly packaging.

The fast-food giant’s move is the latest in a wave of announcements from major chains pledging to reduce their reliance on plastic, but experts say the steps are small, often take a long time to expand nationally and, if not properly planned, will ultimately have a negligible impact.

READ MORE: Canada to ban single-use plastics in 2021

“As one of the largest restaurant chains, we have the responsibility to take action on these important social and environmental challenges,” said Rob Dick, supply chain officer at McDonald’s Canada.

The company announced Wednesday it would operate one location in Vancouver, B.C. and another in London, Ont.

While the two locations will continue to use much of the same packaging found in other McDonald’s restaurants, they will also test alternatives. This summer, diners there will see wooden cutlery and stir sticks, and paper straws, as well as receive their cold drinks in a cup without plastic coating and with lids made from a wood fibre.

It’s part of the company’s commitment to source all of its guest packaging from “renewable, recycled or certified sources” and recycle all of it at each of its restaurants by 2025.

McDonald’s is not the only company to start introducing more environmentally friendly packaging.

Burger chain A&W swapped out plastic straws for compostable ones at its restaurants earlier this year.

Tim Hortons has introduced a new lid that is 100 per cent recyclable, said spokeswoman Jane Almeida in an email, adding it will be rolled out nationally by the end of the summer. The company is also testing paper straws and rolling out wooden stir sticks, and has announced a 10-year marketing effort to sell consumers on the merits of reusable cups.

Starbucks plans to eliminate plastic straws globally by 2020, according to an emailed statement that also outlined the company’s other initiatives including helping to fund a competition to develop a compostable paper cup and an upcoming pilot of a greener cup alternative in Vancouver.

Many of these promises start out as tests, but can take a long time to scale nationally.

McDonald’s chose to start testing in two restaurants to allow it to be more nimble and try new things faster than if it were to attempt the same at its more than 1,400 restaurants in Canada, Dick said.

This allows the company to test them from a food safety and quality perspective, like whether consumers will approve of the feeling of drinking out of a wood-fibre lid.

There are practical considerations, he said, like the fact that it’s easier to ship new items to two restaurants rather than 1,400.

It’s too early to tell how long it would take to scale-up any of the tests, he said, but if the reaction is positive, the company will work with the supplier to add more restaurants incrementally.

“That also gives the supplier and the industry kind of time to catch up.”

Another factor is cost, said Tony Walker, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University who studies plastic pollution.

Restaurants struggle with tight profit margins and competition is fierce, he said, adding consumers don’t want to pay a premium for green alternatives even if they support their use. A recent study he conducted suggested Canadians aren’t willing to pay more than a 2.5 per cent premium.

“So, I’m sure that the packaging costs have to be ultra-low, otherwise they’re not going to be able to launch an alternative.”

There’s also the fear of initiatives backfiring, he said, and having a catastrophic impact on share price if it’s a public company.

“Nobody wants to over commit to a strategy that might not work,” he said, explaining it’s a safer bet to start small.

What Vito Buonsante wants to see instead of these small changes, though, is a shift from the fundamental business model of throwing away packing.

Restaurants should focus more on reducing waste and reusing equipment, said the plastics program manager at Environmental Defence, an advocacy organization that fights for a reduction in plastic waste. One example of this would be A&W serving much of its eat-in meals on ceramic plates and in glass mugs.

As for the third R — recycling, he said they need to ensure their products are actually recyclable in all of Canada’s jurisdictions and that requires more transparency.

“Otherwise it’s meaningless.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID- 19: Ucluelet encourages visitors and residents to mask up

“Put your ego aside, this is what needs to be done,” said Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel.

Frustration grows in Ucluelet as locked gate puts school garden in peril

“You walk by there and it’s just dead. Everything’s dry and yelling for water,” Liisa Nielsen said.

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Ucluelet fire crew extinguishes residential blaze

Ucluelet’s fire chief is praising his crew for making short work of a residential blaze on Tuesday.

DFO reports unusually high whale mortalities in 2020

“It’s so important to have all these eyes and ears in the community reporting these deaths.”

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

Airborne hot dog strikes Greater Victoria pedestrian

Police called to 4200-block of Quadra Street for hot dog incident

B.C. scientist, 63, protests in trees set to be removed for Trans Mountain pipeline

Tim Takaro is reaching new heights as he tries to stall the pipeline expansion project in New Westminster

Dwindling B.C. bamboo supply leaves Calgary Zoo biologists worried about pandas

Zoo has been trying to send pandas back to China since May

Dinosaurs revived for animatronic auction in Langley

More than 500 robot dinosaurs, fossils, and exhibition gear are going on the block Aug. 6

B.C. paramedics responded to a record-breaking 2,700 overdose calls in July

Province pledges $10.5 million for expansion of overdose prevention response

Canada signs deals with Pfizer, Moderna to get doses of COVID-19 vaccines

Earlier in July both Pfizer and Moderna reported positive results from smaller trials

Canucks tame Minnesota Wild 4-3 to even NHL qualifying series

J.T. Miller leads Vancouver with goal and an assist

Cyclist in hospital after being hit by load of lumber hanging from truck on B.C. highway

A man is in hospital with broken ribs, punctured lung and a broken clavicle and scapula

Most Read