If you visit a McDonald’s in the U.K. early next year, you might notice a new option if you get a hot drink like coffee or hot chocolate: Instead of a typical disposable cup, you’ll have the choice to walk away with a reusable plastic cup and lid that you can later put in a special bin to be collected and sterilized for another customer.
“Reuse is a really interesting, important tool in a suite of tools that we will need, and we’re exploring as we look to keep waste out of nature,” says Jenny McColloch, vice president of global sustainability at McDonald’s Corporation. The company is the first in the food service industry to partner with Loop, a company that also pioneered a new system of reusable packaging for mainstream consumer products like shampoo and ice cream from major brands. The pilot will test how Loop’s system could work in the context of fast food.
In the U.K., most McDonald’s restaurants are already recycling paper cups, sending them to recycling centers that remove the plastic lining so the paper can be recycled. But a cup reused multiple times can have even less impact. The process is straightforward. Customers who choose the cup will pay a small deposit on it. If they stay in the store, they can drop it off in a Loop bin there and get their money back; if they take the cup to go, they can either bring it back the next time or drop it off at another Loop site later—like a Tesco supermarket, where Loop is also expanding. (If you don’t find a Loop site, the cup is also recyclable, but loses some of the benefit if it’s not reused multiple times.)
“You can now leave the restaurant with it and deposit it anywhere,” says Tom Szaky, CEO of Loop. “So you get that sort of to-go experience fulfilled, and you don’t have to deal with anything other than depositing it back in the Loop ecosystem.” It’s easier for customers, he argues, than lugging around their own reusable mug. “The key that always emanates from everything is how do we make reuse work for the most convenience-focused businesses and consumers, and really focus on that convenience of disposability while acting reusable.”