The Colossus of fast food McDonald's is leading the way among lobbyists hard at scrapping proposed regulation on packaging and packaging waste (Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, PPWR), which provides for a ban on disposable containers in restaurants and public establishments by 2030, as well as a 10% increase in reusable containers for take-away food. (1)
McDonald's, 'tailor-made' studies against the packaging regulation
The detective agency independent DeSmog reconstructs in detail the furious activity of LOBBY which tries to bury the transition to sustainable packaging, also by funding studies judged unclear by academics and industry experts. (2)
McDonald's – responsible for releasing waste into the environment for 'over one billion kilos of packaging every year, equal to the weight of over 100 Eiffel towers', together with packaging manufacturers and trade associations – in late April he asked the EU presidents of Parliament, Council and Commission for a break in the legislative process of the packaging regulation.
Yet another move, after a relentless pressure. In one year, these lobbyists held over 290 official meetings with MEPs, against 21 for NGOs.
Since June 2022, McDonald's and other acquired industry groups have funded three studies, launched two websites and sponsored numerous articles attacking the legislation on the grounds that it would undermine Europe's zero waste ambitions.
Reuse is the way out
The transition from a consumption model of disposable packaging to the use of reusable containers is indicated - by the promoters of the PPWR, the independent scientific community and civil society - as the indispensable solution to address the environmental problems associated with the production and dispersion of plastic it is microplastics.
'The packing it is a major user of virgin materials as 40% of plastic and 50% of paper used in the EU is used for packaging. Without action, the EU would see a further 19% increase in packaging waste by 2030, and for plastic packaging waste an even 46% increase', reminds the European Commission. (3)
This change however, it requires significant investments and operational changes for commercial establishments such as McDonald's. And a productive conversion for the disposable packaging industries.
Obscure data on the convenience of reuse
Le LOBBY of Mc Donald's and the industries indicated - in defiance of the scientific evidence on the environmental impact of their 'business-as-usual', also in relation to plastic production (Zheng et al., 2019) – insist that reusable packaging would cause a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions for meals on the spot and 260% for those to take away.
The exact opposite than what was found in the studies of the European Commission, which instead envisage a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 23 million tonnes/year, thanks to the measures proposed in the PPWR.
Lobbyists of the packaging moreover, they invest huge resources to disseminate their theorems through studies 'tailored' to their interests and articles (for a fee) also disseminated on the Politico EU information site. (4,5)
Among the materials The study funded by McDonald's and conducted by the research consultancy firm Kearney is much debated. (6)
A systematic review proposes a very negative scenario, if the obligation to reuse containers is approved. Adducing a series of theories that appear completely unfounded. Some examples:
– the hypothetically negative environmental impact of the adoption of reusable containers refers to the effects in 10 years of the complete elimination of disposable containers for take-away food. The regulation instead provides for a conversion to reusable containers only for 10% of takeaway food and 20% for drinks, by 2030,
– the greater consumption of water (to sanitize the containers) is calculated without taking into account the simultaneous saving of the water consumed today to produce disposable packaging,
– the return rate for reuse is indicated in just three times for plates and cutlery, before they are broken or thrown in the trash. An unlikely hypothesis, according to activists and academics, who also point to the standardization of containers and widespread collection (as it is now for differentiated) as tools to increase the collection rate.
The charge of disposable pro studios
Theses pro disposable are being replicated in other studies and communications initiatives funded by industry groups.
At the end of April, McDonald's and 12 industry members launched the coalition 'Together for Sustainable Packaging', to dismantle the proposed regulation on packaging.
'The alliance includes Seda and Huhtamaki together with the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), a trade group of which McDonald's is a part'.
The site websites of the coalition was created by the public relations firm Boldt (Brussels) and warns that policy makers should 'beware of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned legislation'.
Studies in favor of disposable packaging they replicate the same concepts, aimed at demonizing the transition to reusable containers.
The colossus of McKinsey consultancy has released a study similar to the Kearney report. (7) He declined to disclose the sponsors of his study. But five groups representing the paper, board and corrugated packaging industry released a report on April 6 (dated March), with findings identical to McKinsey's as yet unpublished report, it reveals. DeSmog. (8)
Before that, in June 2022, the same theses were disseminated in a study by European Paper PackagingAlliance (EPPA), of which McDonald's is a part. (9)
Lots of effort, including financial, could be dedicated to the reorganization necessary to reduce the mountain of packaging waste. But the colossus of fast food, historical sample of greenwashing, continues its race in a direction contrary to ESG criteria (Environment, Social and Governance).
(1) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Reduction, reuse and recycling of packaging in the EU. PPWR's proposal. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.12.22
(2) Clare Carlile. McDonald's Leads Lobbying Offensive Against Laws to Reduce Packaging Waste in Europe. DeSmog. 8.5.23 https://www.desmog.com/2023/05/08/mcdonalds-leads-lobbying-offensive-against-laws-to-reduce-packaging-waste-in-europe/
(3) European Green Deal: Putting an end to wasteful packaging, boosting reuse and recycling. European Commission. 30.11.22 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_7155
(4) Pause the proposal on PPWR (Sponsored content from Together for Sustainable Packaging). Political. 24.4.23 https://www.politico.eu/sponsored-content/pause-the-proposal-on-ppwr/#_ftn1
(5) Jon Banner, EVP and global chief impact officer,. McDonald's. No silver bullet: Ensuring the right packaging solutions for Europe. (Sponsored content from McDonald's). Political. 1.3.23 https://www.politico.eu/sponsored-content/no-silver-bullet-ensuring-the-right-packaging-solutions-for-europe/
(6) No silver bullets. Why the right mix of solutions will achieve circularity in Europe's informal eating out (IEO) sector. Kearney. April 2023 https://nosilverbullet.eu/
(7) The potential impact of reusable packaging. McKinsey. 5.4.23 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/paper-forest-products-and-packaging/our-insights/the-potential-impact-of-reusable-packaging
(8) Impact Assessment of reuse targets in proposed PPWR. Final Report. Study commissioned by Cepi, ECMA, EPPA, FEFCO and Pro Carton. March 2023. https://www.cepi.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/202303-Impact-Assessment-of-reuse-targets-in-proposed-PPWR_FINAL.pdf
(9) New study shows that making reusable containers for takeaway obligatory will undermine the EU's environmental goals. EPP. 27.6.22 https://www.eppa-eu.org/general/new-study-shows-that-making-reusable-containers-for-takeaway-obligatory-will-undermine-the-eu%E2%80%99s-environmental-goals.html
Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".