Photos by Zhang Peng via Getty Images

They're tyring to make a more widely recyclable cup

Mike Pomranz
July 17, 2018

As McDonald’s has continued to venture further into the coffee game, and Starbucks has worked to make food a larger part of its business, these two monster brands have seen their corporate rivalry increase. While they may be at war over who will sell you a pumpkin spice latte, the two companies have recently agreed that they’re willing to work together on the cups that those drinks are served in.

McDonald’s has announced that it has become the co-lead partner on Starbucks’ NextGen Cup Challenge, an initiative launched earlier this year to search for a more universally recyclable cup for coffee and other drinks. Set to launch in September, the challenge will give entrepreneurs of all sizes the chance to enter a six-month accelerator program and receive up to $1 million in funding, according to Fast Company.

Between the two, McDonald’s and Starbucks reportedly distribute about 4 percent of the 600 billion cups used annually each year—and though most of those cups are technically recyclable, due to a host of issues, only a “nominal” amount actually get recycled according to Closed Loop Partners, the eco-friendly firm that is running the NextGen Cup Challenge. Needless to say, a company as large as McDonald’s brings plenty to the table regardless, but the hope is that, beyond the burger chain’s ability to chip in money up front, the prospective buying power of two of the world’s largest chains will also provide a major incentive for companies willing to search for a more recyclable cup.

Yet despite the obvious ecological benefits, hearing that McDonald’s and Starbucks have partnered up is a bit unexpected. However, Marion Gross, McDonald’s chief supply chain officer in the U.S., laid out an extremely compelling argument for why working together on this issue makes sense. “There are certain things we’d say that we’re not competitors on,” she told Fast Company. “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.”

Reframing the idea of making cups more recyclable in the context of a health issue is actually extremely interesting even beyond this initiative. Unlike foodborne illness, which comes with an immediate impact, the negative repercussions of not recycling can be a bit more intangible. So beyond the financial ramifications, the simple fact that McDonald’s is engaging in this discussion in these ways is hopefully another big positive for the future of our planet.

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