Amid growing concern about a world drowning in packaging waste, Burger King on Thursday became one of the first global fast-food chains to announce plans to test reusable to-go containers for both food and beverages using a closed-loop system to reduce waste.
The Miami-based burger chain said it will begin testing washable Whopper containers and cups that guests can return using the circular package service Loop. Those containers will be sanitized and returned to the restaurants where they can be used again and again, reducing the need for single-use packaging.
The trial is set to start in 2021 in Burger King restaurants in New York City, Portland and Tokyo, with more cities expected to be added later in the year, the company said.
The move is part of a larger companywide “Restaurant Brands for Good” plan to reduce its environmental impact and foster sustainable production of packaging materials. In addition to the test of reusables, the company said it will source 100% of guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources — and that all restaurants will recycle guest packaging in Canada and the U.S. by 2025.
Plastic pollution has become a serious global problem made worse by the pandemic with consumers ordering more to-go and delivered foods in single-use packaging that ends up in landfills. Less than 10% of plastic globally is recycled and recycling services in many cities have reportedly been shut down or overwhelmed by COVID.
The reusable movement to cut back reliance on single-use plastics had gained momentum before the pandemic, with restaurant chains like Just Salad and Dig pioneering the use of bowls that could be sanitized and reused. But for many brands, COVID-19 fears put reusable container programs on hold.
The more than 18,800-unit Burger King, owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International, is partnering with New Jersey-based TerraCycle, which has been working across the retail sector to develop solutions for eliminating packaging waste. TerraCycle is working with McDonald’s on a reusable cup program in the United Kingdom, for example. That program will also use Loop.
Loop is TerraCycle's consumer-facing operation, giving shoppers the opportunity to buy retail goods online — like soap, laundry detergent or ice cream — that comes in reusable containers that are returned, sanitized and reused. Shoppers are given a tote bag where they can put the empty containers and schedule a pickup from their home, or drop off at UPS sites.
As it works for shoppers using Loop, Burger King guests that choose the reusable packaging will be charged a deposit that will be refunded once the container is returned through Loop.
“During COVID, we have seen the environmental impact of increased takeaway ordering which makes this initiative by Burger King all the more important,” said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle and Loop CEO. “This enables Burger King consumers to easily bring reusability into their daily lives, and whether they choose to eat in or takeaway, they will be able to get some of their favorite food and drinks in a reusable container.”
Burger King said the program is being developed with rigorous safety protocols.
“The Loop system gives us the confidence in a reusable solution that meets our high safety standards, while also offering convenience for our guests on the go,” said Matthew Banton, head of innovation and sustainability, Burger King Global. “As part of our Restaurant Brands for Good plan, we’re investing in the development of sustainable packaging solutions that will help push the foodservice industry forward in reducing packaging waste.”
In addition to going green, Burger King is also going clean, in terms of its menu. Last month the all-franchised chain announced it had completed its rollout of a Whopper free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives as part of a broader plan to remove additives from its menu.
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