The Threat of Fast-Food Businesses

by Tasnia Amirun Naher

Are fast food corporations like McDonald’s sustainable?

What does this exactly mean? For a food company to be sustainable, it needs a food system that “contributes to food security and nutrition for all in such a way that economic, social and environmental bases generate food security, and nutrition for future generations are safeguarded” [1].
McDonald’s is easily recognised as one of the world’s most popular fast-food chains with one of the fastest-growing franchises. Therefore, if they embraced a sustainable food system it would  significantly aid in tackling the United Nation’s Sustainability Goals (SDG). McDonald’s has four focus areas: “Community Connection,” “Food Quality & Sourcing,” “Jobs, Inclusion & Empowerment,” and “Our Planet,” [2] each of which has long-term goals that support the seventeen SDGs. [3] This article will concentrate on Goal 12: “Responsible Consumption and Production,” and McDonald’s practices in this area [4].

What role does McDonald’s play in achieving the SDGs?

Did you know that McDonald’s packaging accounts for half of England’s fast-food garbage, and it also accounts for the highest percentage of littered coffee cups (28 %) [5]?
To keep garbage out of the environment, McDonald’s is experimenting with several initiatives to minimise packaging, facilitate the transition to more durable materials and help customers reuse and recycle [6].

Here are some of their achievements!

Loop, TerraCycle’s circular packaging business in the UK, has developed a reusable cup, allowing customers to have their cups cleaned and reused for their drinks. A new fibre lid for cold drinks has been designed in France to replace plastic covers and eliminate the need for a straw. This will save approximately 1,200 metric tonnes of plastic each year. Furthermore, paper straws, carefully designed with consumers’ needs in mind, have now replaced plastic straws [7].

The Global Food Disposition Policy was established to ensure that no food is wasted and that suppliers and distributors worldwide donate it to organisations’ such as food banks [8]. But are these new initiatives sufficient to combat waste?

How can they improve their efforts to combat climate change?

Firstly, they could diversify the menu, particularly by  including more plant-based options and reducing meat portions in meals and products so as to promote a sustainable food future. More vegetarian and vegan food options are increasingly getting popular [9].
Secondly, they should try and prevent  food waste as much as possible; use the Too Good to Go app, which allows you to give away “magic bags of surplus, unsold foods” at a discounted price [10]. Many companies like Greggs [11] are involved in this movement. Having large corporations join forces would be highly beneficial, as it would actively raise their customers’ social awareness of the importance of sustainability.
They should consider going  paperless instead of wasting a lot of paper and energy by constantly printing receipts. They could use online services to ensure that orders are managed on an online database and could also send customers  QR codes via email as a substitute for their order numbers while waiting in line.


McDonald’s has not perfected the most effective and efficient way to achieve all SDGs. Nonetheless, they are beginning to have a significant impact on changing the business market.. Implementing some of the recommendations articulated in this article would be critical in achieving their broader goals and could possibly inspire other food businesses to do the same. However, the company has a long way to go to meet the world’s needs, as this is not something you can accomplish overnight.

[1] Von Braun, J., Afsana, K., Fresco, L.O., Hassan, M. and Torero, M., 2021. Food system concepts and definitions for science and political action. Nature Food [online], 2(10) (October), pp.748-750. DOI: [Accessed 28 July 2022].
[2] McDonald’s, 2019;04. ESG Reporting Website Archive 2019. [online] Managing Our Impact, pp. 04. Available at: [Accessed 28 July 2022].
[3] United Nations, 2022. Do you know all 17 SDGs? [online]. Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Sustainable Development. Available at: [Accessed 28 July 2022].
[4] United Nations, 2021b. Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns [online]. Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Sustainable Development. Available at:[Accessed 29 July 2022].
[5] Chadwick, J., 2020. McDonald’s packaging accounts for HALF of all fast-food litter in England, and Coca-Cola for one in five non-alcoholic drink containers discarded on streets, parks and beaches. Mail Online [online], 9 June. Available at: [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[6] McDonald’s, 2019;04. ESG Reporting Website Archive 2019. [online] Managing Our Impact, pp. 83. Available at: [Accessed 28 July 2022].
[7] McDonald’s, 2019;08. McDonald’s Purpose & Impact Summary Report 2019–2020, pp. 08. Available at: [Accessed 28 July 2022].
[8] GOV.UK, 2022. Food waste: A response to the policy challenge. [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[9] Vegan.Org, 2022. Vegan Action. [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[10] Too Good to Go, 2021. Ready to fight food waste? [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[11] Greggs, 2022. Causes We Care About. [online] Available at:[Accessed 29 July 2022].

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