Is McDonald's Trying To Roll Out Reusable Tableware?

McDonald's undoubtedly owes part of its dominating success to how it packages its food. The company's bright red fry cartons, smiling Happy Meal boxes, and tall, white cups emblazoned with golden arches are universally recognized, perhaps even more so than the Mona Lisa.

But this effective branding choice has a major problem: It's not very sustainable. Lots of packaging provided by the fast food industry (including plastic straws, cutlery, and containers) is single-use and cannot be recycled, which means it typically ends up being incinerated or buried in a landfill.

As a giant global corporation, McDonald's has at least recognized the need to focus on sustainability. It claims to utilize a wide range of measures to make its restaurants more environmentally friendly, such as providing more recycling opportunities for customers, using smaller napkins, and changing the type of food packaging material it uses. However, McDonald's appears to have been largely reluctant to tackle the issue of single-use packaging head-on — until now. A new law in France could change the way you eat at McDonald's forever.

France has banned single-use tableware in restaurants

The French government has chosen to lead the way in the battle against single-use packaging, enacting a law that prohibits restaurants with more than 20 seats from distributing throw-away tableware. Although the rule only applies to customers sitting in restaurants to eat, it means that fast food companies like McDonald's will have to provide reusable cups, plates, and cutlery to diners.

To its credit, McDonald's seems to be embracing the idea. The traditional fry cartons have been replaced with an almost-identical plastic version, which is durable and BPA-free. Other cardboard food and drink containers are out too, replaced with plastic boxes and glasses. The designs by Elium took more than two years to perfect, so it's unlikely that McDonald's would have put so much time (and, inevitably, money) into the containers if it didn't have rollout plans beyond France — though that's the only known plan for them currently.

In addition to the mandated actions in France, McDonald's is exploring additional waste-reduction strategies elsewhere. Thus far, plastic straws are being withdrawn in China, plastic cutlery has been swapped for wooden alternatives in India and Australia, and the plastic lids of European McFlurries have been axed.