ENVIRONMENT - POLITICS

France shames fast food giants over recycling failures

McDonald's outlets in France sort and recycle less than 58 percent of their waste despite signing commitments to recycle up to 100 percent by the end of this year.
McDonald's outlets in France sort and recycle less than 58 percent of their waste despite signing commitments to recycle up to 100 percent by the end of this year. Wikimedia Commons/Arnaud 25

France’s Ecological Transition Minister has named and shamed more than a dozen fast food giants who have failed to live up to commitments to sort and recycle their immense waste.

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The list of well-known companies – many of whom spend millions on public relations every year – was published on the Ministry of Ecological Transition’s website Thursday.

Minister Barbara Pompili warned of sanctions and even restaurant closures if the offending brands, which included the likes of McDonald’s, KFC, La Croissanterie and Paul, did not clean up their act. 

In 2019, a commitment charter was signed by 16 fast food chains representing 30,000 outlets who serve nearly 6 billion meals each year.

The companies promised to comply with a five-stream sorting system that offered dedicated bins for paper/cardboard, metal, plastic, glass and wood waste, plus a separate bin for biowaste.

Sixteen fast food brands operating in France have been named by the government for their failures to sort and recycle at least 90 percent of their waste. The columns indicate the brand name, the percentage of five-stream waste being sorted, and the percentage of biowaste being sorted.
Sixteen fast food brands operating in France have been named by the government for their failures to sort and recycle at least 90 percent of their waste. The columns indicate the brand name, the percentage of five-stream waste being sorted, and the percentage of biowaste being sorted. © Ministère de la Transition écologique

Companies 'on the edge'

Under the rules, 90 percent of a company’s outlets were to have the sorting and recycling system in place by 1 January – rising to 100 percent by the end of this year. Companies were also obliged to issue status reports every six months.

However Pompili told France Inter Thursday that only three brands – Cojean, Burger King and Subway – were following the rules. 

“Most companies do not respect them, and are just on the edge," she added.

While brands such as Class'Croute, Brioche Dorée and Exki were between 84 and 88 percent compliant, pizza chains Domino’s and Five Guys were at the bottom of the pile – the latter only 16 percent compliant.

Other big names who did not make the cut included Starbucks, Pomme de Pain, La Mie Câline and the Jour Healthy Groupe.

Polystyrene ban

The naming and shaming of waste offenders comes as a final ban on polystyrene packaging took effect on 1 July.

Mostly used for takeaway kebabs, the polystyrene packets were prohibited in January under a law aimed at phasing out single-use plastics, with retailers given a six-month grace period to use up existing stocks.

During a visit to a kebab shop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, Pompili explained that polystyrene took a millennia to completely biodegrade in nature, compared to 450 years for a plastic bag.

Vendors must now turn to recyclable alternatives such as cardboard, pulp or expanded polypropylene boxes.

“Kebab boxes are somewhat emblematic because every year 350 million kebabs are consumed; that’s 11 of them every per second," Pompili said.

"We won't find a perfect alternative solution right away, but we’ve taken a step forward.” 

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