McDonald’s and Starbucks Team Up to Develop a Sustainable Cup

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In the coffee world, Starbucks and McDonald’s have always been competitors. These two multibillion-dollar global giants have always been fighting to gain our caffeinated hearts. But when it comes to sustainability, they’re on the same team – at least for now.

McDonald’s and Starbucks have just announced that they are planning to join forces to build a fully recyclable, compostable cup within the next three years – which will include not just the cup itself, but also a lid and straw to go with it.

The companies are two of the top three most popular food chains worldwide, and they are planning to transform the way single-use cups are made and disposed.

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The partnership comes as the food industry finds itself increasingly under pressure to reduce plastic in packaging and single-use items such as straws. Together, both companies distribute a combined 4% of the world’s 600 billion cups annually. While each company’s current cups are technically recyclable, they seldom are due to practical matters related to recycling infrastructure.

News of eco-friendly partnership comes on the heels of the recent initiative of players in fast food industry—such as Chipotle, Subway, and Burger King, among others—to reduce plastic in packaging. Starbucks itself just announced its own initiative to ban straws altogether by 2020.

McDonald’s and Starbucks plan to leverage their combined scale to change the way all single-use cups are made and disposed of. It’s a plan of unprecedented scale in the fast-food industry to improve its ecological footprint. “We’ve been at this for a while [alone], but we were getting tired of incrementality,” says Colleen Chapman, Vice President of Starbucks’s Global Social Impact Overseeing Sustainability.

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The initiative is called the NextGen Cup Challenge, and it invites entrepreneurs, large and small, to develop materials and designs that can replace today’s cups. The program kicks off in September and will help startups work together to combine them into market-ready solutions. 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.

To start, NextGen will focus on creating sustainable fiber-based hot and cold cups before seeking solutions for lids and straws.

“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good to make positive changes that impact our planet and the communities we serve,” Marion Gross, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald’s USA, said in a statement.

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In the U.S., Seattle has already instituted a ban on plastic straws, utensils and cocktail picks, setting into motion Starbucks’ plan to eliminate single-use plastic straws from all of its cafes globally within the next two years.

The United Kingdom has also announced plans to ban single-use plastic as early as next year, prompting global companies to look for sustainable alternatives. McDonald’s said in June that it would begin a phased rollout of paper straws in its U.K. and Ireland restaurants in September.

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