From The Editors

Starbucks and McDonald’s Unite to Develop Recyclable and Compostable Coffee Cups

The fierce rivalry between Starbucks and McDonalds’s in the business of selling coffee is a well-documented fact; but, then, competing is their prerogative, as long as ethical or legal boundaries are not breached.

Competition is all very well for the business and the customer but when it comes to addressing a common issue in the interest of society, which is, essentially, the customer base for most businesses, only the farsighted will set aside their differences and work together to find a solution. That way, they can live to fight another day.

That’s exactly what Starbucks and McDonalds’s have done by joining forces to find a fully recyclable, compostable solution to the single-use cups currently in use, not only in their own outlets but across the nation’s food industry – – a growing environmental threat, indeed.

“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,” said Marion Gross, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for McDonald’s USA .

“There are certain things we’d say that we’re not competitors on. The easiest example would be food safety. In food safety, there’s no competitive advantage. We all have to come with solutions and make sure we’re watching out for the public’s interest. This is something that we see as kind of similar. It’s a societal issue, and there’s a way that we can come together, not as competitors, but as problem solvers. We can use our collective scale to make a difference,” Gross said.

You can’t deny the fact that there’s an increased sense of awareness in the food industry about the health and environmental issues resulting from the plastic used in packaging.

Food chains like Chipotle, Subway, and Burger King, to name a few, have also taken the initiative to minimize the use of plastic in packaging, particularly in straws.

As part of a 2020 initiative to make the food industry completely straw-free, Starbucks itself recently announced a new type of lid, designed to replace straws used in many beverages.

Starbucks and McDonald’s together account for around 4 percent of the 600 billion single-use cups used throughout the world annually, which works out to a whopping 24 billion cups between the two multi-billion-dollar global giants.

While all of these cups are technically recyclable, they seldom are recycled because of the presence of plastic linings on the cups, and also due to the different recycling infrastructure and methods used in different plants.

The two food chain behemoths will now combine their ample resources to effect sweeping changes to the way single-use cups are manufactured and recycled or composted.

The two, in fact, will be working with Closed Loop Partners – a company that “invests in sustainable goods, advanced recycling technologies, and the development of the circular economy.”

A circular economy, basically, means keeping your resources in use for as long as possible, right to the end of its service life, which is when you recover and regenerate products and material.

“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good to make positive changes that impact our planet and the communities we serve,” Gross said.

“We are excited to join Starbucks and Closed Loop to help solve this pressing challenge as collaboration is key to finding a scalable, lasting global solution,” he added.

Colleen Chapman – Vice President, Global Social Impact, Starbucks – said that her company was “proud to come together with industry partners like McDonald’s to drive innovative, scalable solutions for cup waste.”

She urged other companies to join them in their endeavor, as “a better cup will benefit the entire industry.”

Through the NextGen Cup Challenge – an innovation challenge and accelerator program initiated by the NextGen Cup Consortium – Starbucks and McDonald’s are inviting supply chain leaders, innovators and solution providers to design a cup that can be easily recycled or composted, and not end up in landfills, which is where most of the 600 billion cups worldwide are ending up, year after year.

Up to seven winners will be announced in the competition which opens in September, with each winner getting $1 million accelerator fund to transform their ideas into a workable reality.

“To date we have received more than 1,000 inquiries from companies and individuals interested in participating in the challenge and we anticipate some exciting and impactful proposals,” said Kate Daly, Closed Loop Partners’ Executive Director of the Center for the Circular Economy.

“In our experience investing in circular economy innovation, we find the most successful path to scaling a systems-changing solution is to bring together key players along the entire value chain in a pre-competitive collaboration,” Daly said.

“This is the type of partnership we need to foster innovative solutions without sacrificing profit. We are working with consortium members to build a robust shared set of technical, performance, and environmental criteria that we will announce later this summer,” she added.

The NextGen Consortium was launched as recently as March this year and is convened by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, while consortium members include Starbucks and McDonald’s.

“There has never been a greater need to tackle the ways in which we source and recover materials,” said Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research and Development (R&D) and Material Science at World Wildlife Fund, U.S.

“McDonald’s participation is a strong step forward in building momentum from major brands to come together and develop innovative approaches to materials waste.

“Working together across the entire value chain of these major companies will allow us to create a comprehensive and lasting solution to this critical conservation challenge.”

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