Since January 1, reusable packaging is mandatory in fast food restaurants in France.
In December, some McDonald’s restaurants were testing prototypes, such as bright red plastic chip cones, similar to the cardboard ones consumers have always known.
“I wasn’t aware of it, but I’m fine with it being required,” approves 16-year-old Tom Fresneau, who came for lunch with his friend Ilane.
“Then it costs more than paper and cardboard, I understand that this is a problem for small fast-food restaurants that run the risk of increasing their prices,” he remarks.
From January 1, fast food restaurants must use reusable tableware for food and drinks served at the table, whether they are glasses, lids, plates, containers or cutlery, in application of the law on the fight against waste and the circular economy (Agec) voted in 2020.
Fast food chains serve 6 billion meals a year at 30,000 outlets in France, generating 180,000 tons of waste a year.
For large chains such as McDonald’s, Quick, KFC or Domino’s Pizza, which use disposable containers and tableware profusely, it is a question of changing the model.
“It is an emblematic measure. If it is applied well tomorrow, it will make a very concrete difference to people, it is certainly going in the right direction,” said Moira Tourneur, from the NGO Zero Waste France.
Located on a busy shopping street, the McDonald’s in Levallois-Perret (Hauts-de-Seine) had to hire “for daytime diving, hostesses at the reception to accompany customers and explain the classification because initially the weather was very complicated, and also at the counter level and the table service”, explains María Varela, its director, to AFP.
“Everything that used to be cardboard is now reusable plastic. We had to review the procedures in the kitchen, separate the orders on the spot from those to take away, have storage space… ”, she explains.
The renovation works in the establishment provided the opportunity to adapt the small kitchen to this new requirement.
This pilot establishment, which employs 70 people and makes 80% of its sales at home or to take away -compared to 50% on average for the 1,527 McDonald’s in France- is one of those that, over the last year, has tested various reusable glass or porcelain containers; before the chain opted for titan plastic, which is reputed to be very resistant.
As of January 1, 90% of the chain’s restaurants should be ready, according to a spokesperson for McDonald’s France.
Customers still sometimes throw the containers in the trash… or take them with them, especially young people, who are used to finishing their drinks outside the establishment.
At Subway, compliance with an obligation that “concerns 95% of the cups,” according to a spokesperson, also required “several months of experimentation and testing,” an “awareness campaign” with franchisees, and interior displays for customers.
Despite the “immediate environmental gain” that this measure constitutes, its application is “threatened”, estimated five NGOs, in a column published by Le Journal du Dimanche at the beginning of December.
Because while some players “show good will”, others “run a great risk of not meeting the deadline of January 1”, worry Surfrider, Zero Waste France, No Plastic in my Sea, Collectif EC2027 and Consigne Network, who ask consumers to “punish the signs”. who do not respect the law” and to the government to monitor the application of the law.
As for the European packaging industry (EPPA), it believes that reusable tableware has “ultimately, a worse environmental balance than that of paper packaging”. “You have to wash it and dry it”, with a lot of “energy, water and detergents”, its president Éric Le Lay stressed in a recent column.
Could local McDonald’s restaurants be inspired by such a move?
“It is true that plastic is an issue, but we must not demonize the material. You have to think about its uses,” explains Aurore Courtieux-Boinot, co-founder of the non-profit organization La Vague.
“A box is also a problem when we talk about a single use because it is an object that has a footprint. As soon as you make something, it requires water, energy, transportation, natural resources for a few minutes of use,” he says.
However, the fast food chain’s cartons are not without environmental consequences.
As for them, Quebec McDonald’s customers say they are open to that way of doing things, arguing that French fries in carton packs are more unpleasant than in a pack made of another material.
An international company based in Quebec could be part of the solution.
Ecocup already manufactures and supplies reusable cups for all types of events throughout the province, such as Festif, Osheaga, SAT and others.
The director of Ecocup Quebec said he had plans to start producing reusable containers for fast food chains.
“It is already a project, let’s say that we already have products of the type that are going to be rented this year for events. If you have the necessary volume, you can easily create a mold, that is not a problem”.
Since its entry into force, McDonald’s restaurants have seen their recyclable packaging disappear, reports the newspaper Le Parisien on Wednesday.
Many customers leave with plastic cups, boxes of croquettes or containers of chips.
“We are seeing losses. But the prices are not disproportionate as in classic restaurants”, says the founder of Pyxo, Benjamín Peri, who offers a fleet of reusable containers to McDonalds.
“It is very difficult to say what is intentional theft, clumsiness and forgetfulness.”
The fast food chain is still planning a communication campaign to counteract the phenomenon.
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