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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Starbucks, McDonald’s Direct $10M More to Accelerate Circularity of Food-Service Packaging

The NextGen Consortium and its partner brands are expanding their work to advance reusable packaging systems, strengthen recycling and composting infrastructure, and scale foodservice packaging innovation.

Today, Closed Loop Partners announced an additional $10 million commitment from the NextGen Consortium’s founding partners, Starbucks and McDonald’s, to continue the Consortium’s work: identifying, accelerating and scaling commercially viable, circular foodservice packaging solutions. The Coca-Cola Company also increased its commitment to now participate as a sector lead partner. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands will continue their participation as supporting partners in the Consortium — which continues to invite other brands to join the effort.

“Starbucks’ work with the NextGen Consortium has been an important part of our ongoing efforts to reduce single-use cup waste, part of our larger goal to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50 percent by 2030,” said Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks. “There has never been a more critical time for industry collaboration to shift away from single-use packaging, promote reusability, and champion recyclability. We are thrilled to continue our work with the NextGen Consortium to drive sustainable solutions for our planet.”

Since 2018, the NextGen Consortium has been working to advance sustainable packaging innovation and recycling infrastructure to help end foodservice packaging waste — with an initial focus on redesigning the single-use hot and cold fiber cup. The Consortium’s NextGen Cup Challenge sourced 480 solutions globally to redesign the cup, selecting 12 winning solutions in 2019 across three areas: innovative cup & cup liners, new materials, and reusable service models. Since then, the Consortium has continued to advance the development of innovative cup and cup liner innovations; and its Circular Business Accelerator supported six early-stage teams to help test and refine their solutions.

In 2019 and 2020, Accelerator teams tested four of the solutions at a large tech company’s campus and piloted them across 14 local, independent cafes in the San Francisco Bay area. These solutions received valuable feedback from customers, restaurants and other key stakeholders. Drawing on insights from those pilots, in January the Consortium released a first-of-its-kind report, Bringing Reusable Packaging Systems to Life — which included a blueprint and open-source resource to encourage collaboration and the growth of reuse models. The Consortium also continued its work across the broader foodservice packaging value chain, conducting dozens of in-depth tests with recyclers, material labs and paper mills to evaluate the performance, recyclability and recoverability of the fiber cup solutions.

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“Through NextGen, we’ve made great progress in growing more sustainable packaging solutions, and there is a lot more work to be done. Faced with increasing climate risks, eco-conscious customers and a resource-constrained world, the foodservice industry must double down on its efforts and band together to strategically tackle the mounting waste challenge,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Starbucks, McDonald’s and other partners in the Consortium make clear their commitment to collaboratively accelerate more circular foodservice packaging solutions, and we encourage stakeholders — from packaging manufacturers to recyclers to designers — to join us in advancing NextGen solutions.”

With the additional $10 million in funding, the Consortium will expand its efforts, including and beyond the fiber cup, to strengthen the sustainable packaging ecosystem. The Consortium will deepen its customer research and testing of reusable packaging systems, explore the circularity of additional packaging materials such as polypropylene (PP); and accelerate the development of more widely recyclable and compostable fiber-based packaging solutions, as well as the infrastructure pathways needed for their recovery.

The Consortium’s increased focus on PP is driven by the growing demand for recycled PP in foodservice packaging, and the need to optimize recycling infrastructure for the material. In 2020, the Consortium joined The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition — part of The Partnership’s Pathway to Circularity initiative — as a Steering Committee member, collaborating to allocate millions of dollars in grants to recycling facilities to improve polypropylene recycling.

Image credit: McDonald's/Loop

Individual waste-mitigation efforts by Starbucks and McDonald’s further bolster the Consortium’s work to accelerate sustainable packaging innovation, foster more robust recovery opportunities for packaging, and develop, enhance and optimize emerging reuse models. Starbucks continues to innovate to encourage the use of personal reusable cups in stores, most recently in partnership with Ocean Conservancy, and will continue to test and learn from programs geared toward reducing single-use cups around the world. McDonald’s has also made strides toward reuse, partnering with Loop to pilot reusable cups in the chain’s UK stores, and continues to make tremendous progress in ensuring its packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources.

Adoption at scale by two international foodservice chains the size of McDonald’s and Starbucks could be a great start to a much-needed shift away from disposable to reusable utensils and packaging in the industry. Nearly 1 trillion disposable takeout containers, bags, boxes, condiment packets, plastic utensils, napkins, and cold and hot cups and lids are used each year in the US alone — costing restaurants and food-service businesses $24 billion per year to purchase, and costing businesses and city governments $6 billion a year in solid-waste management costs. According to a recent report from Upstream, trading out disposables for reusables can also save foodservice companies $5 billion a year in procurement costs and avert 7.5 million tons of materials from landfills and waterways annually.

“With approximately 11 million metric tons of plastic waste ending up in our oceans every year, we need to bring circular packaging solutions to the table. We know that to tackle this massive, shared challenge, all stakeholders have to be involved,” says Erin Simon, Head of Plastic Waste + Business at World Wildlife Fund — an environmental advisory partner for the Consortium. “The NextGen Consortium can play an important role in catalyzing the collaboration we need by enabling cross-sector partnerships and open-source insight sharing, and we are proud to be a partner in this important work.”

Moving forward, even greater collaboration among businesses, industry groups, nonprofits and others will be needed to solve systemic waste challenges. Through the expanded commitment of the NextGen Consortium, the multi-year collaboration will continue to work across the value chain — with global brands, municipalities, NGOs, recyclers and manufacturers — to advance viable market solutions that scale throughout the supply chain and bring value to recovery systems.