How Starbucks and McDonalds are coming together for good

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Christmas coffee

It’s not every day that we see two market leaders come together in business. McDonalds and Starbucks are two of the most well-known companies in the world, and it’s fair to say no-one expected to see them working together. However, as the world looks for more eco-conscious options and the public cry for no more single-use plastics is heard, it seems there is one thing these two monoliths can collaborate on.

Although on a technical level your everyday Starbucks and McDonalds cups ARE recyclable, it is seemingly rare that they are recycled. Cups rarely end up in the correct bin, and as other components like plastic lids and straws are not recyclable people often assume the whole cup is non-recyclable. Earlier this year, thanks to public demands, both Starbucks and McDonalds announced they would work to ban all plastic straws, and Starbucks also announced that it will be introducing sippy cup style lids to its cold drinks. Although these changes are short-term solutions to one of the world’s most prevalent problems, they don’t offer a long-term fix.

The NextGen Cup Challenge, launched by Closed Loop Partners, looks to address single-use food packaging waste globally. The idea is simple, it’s a global request for innovators and inventors to come forward and offer an eco-friendly alternative to the current cups offered by food and beverage retailers. The chosen design and designer will be offered a $1 million grant, as well as mentorship from investors, packaging and supply chain leaders, prospective customers and business leaders.

The challenge leads with cup innovation and will then follow that up with reusable straws and lids. Although there are many options being trialed, the challenge aims to find a reusable and recyclable material that meets industry health and safety rules, as well as being feasible to produce on a large scale.

Paper Straws

Starbucks and McDonald’s may be unlikely allies but these initiatives allow them to be on the front foot in new materials and design. Marion Gross, McDonald’s chief supply chain officer for the United States, had this to say: “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’.  

“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 up 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.”

And, with both companies having backed the NextGen Challenge with $5 million, plus an open call to other large businesses to join the project, we can all hope that solutions are found. The British Coffee Association remarks that “80% of people who visit coffee shops do so at least once a week, whilst 16% of us visit on a daily basis.” This really does go to show that there is no better time than now to be looking into alternatives that can help us win the fight again single-use plastics.