McDonald's reduces waste—and saves money

Partnership was a first for a Fortune 500 company and an environmental group

Switching out its polystyrene "clamshell" containers for paper containers was one of several important changes McDonald's made.

Case study

By reducing, reusing and recycling, McDonald’s saves $6 million a year.

  • 30%decrease in McDonald’s waste as a result of our partnership.
  • Problem

    In the late 1980s, McDonald’s faced public pressure to reduce its packaging and waste. But the visible waste—including foam “clamshells” protecting every burger—was only a small part of the story. Nearly 80% of McDonald’s waste was generated behind the counter, in food prep and supply systems.

  • Solution

    Soon after, McDonald’s and EDF began a groundbreaking partnership to reduce McDonald’s solid waste. The project team analyzed McDonald’s U.S. operations, including restaurants, distribution centers and suppliers. We set out to help them find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as they could.

  • Results

    Over the next decade, McDonald’s eliminated more than 300 million pounds of packaging, recycled 1 million tons of corrugated boxes and reduced restaurant waste by 30%. As a result of these and other packaging changes, McDonald’s also saves an estimated $6 million per year.

  • Lasting impact

    Since this effort, EDF has launched many partnerships with market leaders, blazing a path for nonprofits partnering with companies. In 2005, we secured a commitment from retail giant Walmart to reduce the environmental footprint of the company’s operations and the products it sells.

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