The Surprising Change That May Be Coming To McDonald's Cups

Aimed at reducing reliance on single-use packaging, McDonald's will test a reusable cup program for hot beverages beginning in 2021 (via McDonald's). The "Loop" cup-sharing initiative will be tested in select McDonald's restaurants in the U.K. The company has not revealed plans to test the program in the U.S.

According to Restaurant Business, McDonald's reported selling 822 million cups of coffee in the U.S. in 2018. Single-use hot beverage cups are more problematic than other kinds of packaging because they contain both plastic and paper or polystyrene layers that aren't easily separated for recycling, so most end up in landfills (via North Carolina State University). By shifting toward reusable coffee cups, McDonald's could eliminate one of their largest sources of non-recyclable waste.

McDonald's cup sharing program will utilize the U.S.-based TerraCycle company's washable and reusable plastic cup designed for coffee and other hot drinks, according to McDonald's. Guests will be able to put down a small (but not yet specified) deposit for the cup. A photo of the Loop cup released by McDonald's suggests that deposits and refunds may be managed via a dedicated phone app that utilizes scannable QR codes to track the cups. McDonald's addressed the issue of hygiene by explaining that "Loop's cleaning systems have been scientifically developed, in partnership with Ecolab, to sanitize each item, which means each cup is hygienically cleaned before each use, making it as safe and hygienic as single-use cups."

Cup sharing is a success in Germany

According to McDonald's, the U.K. Loop cup initiative is similar to the "Recup" reusable cup system launched in Germany. Launched in 2016 (via Make the Planet Great Again), Recup is a nationwide initiative whereby restaurants throughout the country, including McDonald's, share reusable plastic cups for hot beverages. The model for Recup was born of the Next-Gen Cup Challenge sustainable design competition, for which McDonald's was a sponsor (via McDonald's). The Loop cup, if successful and widely rolled out, would be part of the company's goal to have all of McDonald's guest packaging derived "from renewable, recycled, or certified sources" by 2025 (via McDonald's).

"We're on a journey to rethink how we package products to give customers options that reduce waste, maintain the highest safety standards, and enhance the McDonald's experience they expect and enjoy. That's an innovation challenge, and it's one we think the Loop model has potential to help us solve," says Jenny McColloch, vice president of Global Sustainability for McDonald's Corporation. The company states: "The model marks significant progress toward innovative circular packaging solutions that help protect the planet for communities today, and in the future."