Recyclable Cups: McDonald’s and Starbucks Join Forces
The public concern over plastic pollution has not gone away.
While ditching plastic straws may have made the headlines, companies must strive to do more than that.
One obvious sign for improvement was the cups they were using. After all, what good is a paper straw if you’re not going to use recyclable cups?
Related: Read more articles about plastic pollution.
Don’t they already have recyclable cups?
At this point, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, McDonald’s cups aren’t fully plastic and they even have recycling bins around encouraging you to recycle them, so what’s the big deal?
Well, while the current plastic coated paper cups are technically recyclable, it doesn’t really work out in practice.
Basically, it’s really tough to actually recycle them and the infrastructure required to do so just doesn’t exist on a big enough scale.
This means if consumers take them home or put them in a recycling bin on the street, they’ll probably end up in landfill.
And that’s why we need to change things.
What needs to happen?
Ultimately, companies need recyclable cups that can avoid going to landfill.
That could mean a cup that’s fully compostable, or just one that is easy to recycle and reuse without reducing material quality.
While it may sound rather trivial, it’s an absolutely mammoth task.
In all likelihood, it’s going to take time and money to come up with a scalable solution. Even then, it needs to be rolled out across entire industries so it’s the new norm.
Because of this, there is one fact that is unarguable:
No one company can do it on their own.
McDonald’s and Starbucks
Through the NextGen Cup Consortium, these companies have each pledged $5 million to try and create a genuine workable solution.
While that’s all well and good, it’s the statement made by Marion Gross, the McDonald’s chief supply chain officer for the U.S., that has really interested me:
“We’re looking at this as a pre-competitive opportunity. Before we would even compete in the normal way we traditionally would compete, this is kind of a step further back in the chain, saying, ‘how can we work together to solve a problem that’s an issue for society, for the environment.”
It’s the words ‘pre-competitive opportunity’ that particularly resonate.
After all, McDonald’s and Starbucks do fiercely complete when it comes to quick coffee, so it’s only natural people would question their collaboration.
However, the idea of a pre-competitive opportunity is a fascinating one. Realistically, every company has the key things that they compete with, and the material of cups usually isn’t one of them. Because of this, McDonald’s and Starbucks can easily work together, and everybody is better off as a result.
What does the future hold?
With the NextGen Cup Challenge officially launching in September, this is definitely a project to watch with interest.
While I’m optimistic that companies can innovate their way out of environmental disaster, it’s important to recognise that the work won’t stop there. I’ll specifically be keeping an eye on what happens after a solution is found.
As I’ve highlighted, any solution needs to be scalable. Companies must roll it out across entire industries as the new norm. If a solution is found, it’ll then need to be adopted by every other cafe and restaurant if it’s to succeed. This might be interesting because companies may actually benefit from the solution without having invested the amount of time and money that McDonald’s and Starbucks have.
Secondly, we need to also rethink the entire infrastructure of recycling. The thing is, what can and can’t be recycled varies massively depending on where you are. In some places it’s organised by councils and public institutions, in others it’s left to the private sector.
Unless we also create a more universal system, I fear than any specific innovation will be prematurely ruled as ineffective.
In short, cups are important. With 600 billion cups distributed globally each year, this is clearly an area that requires attention.
Collaboration is no doubt crucial to this, and McDonald’s and Starbucks will hopefully prove that it can work.
I like the idea of a ‘pre-competitive opportunity’ and I believe most companies could benefit from identifying any psimilar partnerships.
Overall though, we need to understand the root cause of the problem we’re facing. Considering most current cups are technically recyclable, we need to change the fact that they still end up in landfill. Until a more universal recycling system is in place, I can’t see any innovation doing anything other than plaster over a gaping wound.
Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.