McDonald’s and Starbucks have announced plans to develop a compostable and recyclable cup in a strategic partnership. The move comes after both chains announced plans to phase out and replace single-use plastic straws.
The initiative, NextGen Cup Challenge, seeks sustainable cup designs from entrepreneurs around the world.
“The challenge will provide grants to good ideas, and help startups work together to combine them into market-ready solutions,” reports Fast Company. “It was launched by Starbucks earlier this year with the earth-friendly innovation and investment firm Closed Loop Partners. Now, McDonald’s is joining the initiative.”
The move is significant not just in the wake of a shift away from plastic — Starbucks and McDonald’s distribute four percent of the world’s disposable cups — about 24 billion cups can be attributed to the chains annually.
“We’re looking at this as a pre-competitive opportunity. Before we would even compete in the normal way we traditionally would compete, this is kind of a step further back in the chain, saying, ‘how can we work together to solve a problem that’s an issue for society, for the environment,” Marion Gross, the McDonald’s chief supply chain officer for the United States, told Fast Company. “There are certain things we’d say that we’re not competitors on. The easiest example would be food safety. In food safety, there’s no competitive advantage. We all have to come with solutions and make sure we’re watching out for the public’s interest. This is something that we see as kind of similar. It’s a societal issue, and there’s a way that we can come together, not as competitors, but as problem solvers. We can use our collective scale to make a difference.”
The chains also say they will use their market power to help redefine the production and disposal of single-use cups, a move Fast Company says is “of unprecedented scale in the fast-food industry.”
“We’ve been at this for a while [alone], but we were getting tired of incrementality,” said Colleen Chapman, vice president of Starbucks’s global social impact overseeing sustainability.
Cities and restaurant chains have begun embracing a shift away from single-use plastic straws. Seattle just became the first major U.S. city to ban them outright. Earlier this week Adidas announced plans to phase out all virgin plastic from its supply chain and its offices, warehouses, and factories.
Only about 14 percent of plastic is recycled around the globe. Compared with paper and steel, the number is significantly low despite worldwide efforts to improve plastic recycling programs. A garbage truck size worth of plastic enters the world’s oceans every minute. Experts warn that without efforts to reduce plastic pollution, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2048.
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