The Facts: Fast-Food Packaging Waste Statistics

Fast-food packaging waste is a global problem, but how bad is the current situation?

Whether you live in a city centre or further afield, you’ve no doubt come across your fair share of litter. Last year, littering was on the rise as lockdowns eased and people started to venture out. The break from isolation was welcomed by many, but a minority left behind their rubbish for others to deal with.

The unsightly images of littered locations featured fast-food packaging, drinks cans and plastic bottles as the primary culprits, but these kinds of issues — and this kind of waste — has been a prevalent problem for years. Fast food restaurants and outlets produce a tremendous amount of packaging waste, but how bad is the packaging waste problem, and what are the latest fast-food packaging waste statistics?

Fast Food Packaging Waste in Numbers

In the UK, it’s estimated that consumers who purchase fast-food for lunch generate about 11 billion tonnes of packaging waste a year. The survey of 1,200 workers found that the average lunch order had four packaged items, including sandwiches, crisps and snacks. You might be thinking that four individually wrapped food items don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but let’s look at the bigger picture.

Over a week, these people could produce 20 separate items of non-recyclable packaging waste. In a month, that average might easily equate to 80 or more missed opportunities to reuse or recycle food packaging. 

This means that the average person who bought their lunch every day from a supermarket, fast-food outlet or other takeaway services could generate nearly 1000 separate pieces of rubbish per year. The worst part? Most of this packaging isn’t recycled or recyclable.

What Are Fast Food Companies Doing About Packaging Waste?

Those numbers leave something of a bad taste in your mouth, so what are fast-food businesses doing about the problem? Surely they’re the ones who should be held accountable for producing unrecyclable, non-biodegradable waste? The internationally recognised fast-food chain McDonald’s produces about three tonnes of packaging waste every minute, almost two million tonnes of packaging waste a year. That’s a lot of rubbish, a lot more than what meets the eye when littering is rife.

How Can Fast Food Companies Tackle Packaging Waste?

It’s clear to see that businesses have a significant environmental problem on their hands, so you might be asking yourself, “are fast-food companies doing enough to solve the packaging waste problem?”. McDonald’s latest statement about its packaging and waste management processes is hopeful, stating that the company aims to “source 100% of our guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025”. 

Other fast-food restaurants are also trying to tackle the environmental issues that fast-food packaging creates. PepsiCo stated in 2019 that it encourages “conservation of natural resources, recycling, source reduction, and the reduction of landfill wastes”, but it’s not clear how much progress has been made by the owner of both KFC and Taco Bell.

While the food-on-the-go market continues to rise, more waste is being produced than ever before. So what can smaller businesses do to counteract the harm of an ever-growing market of convenience-hungry consumers?

Eco-friendly Packaging Products and Waste Reduction

When you’re dealing with a problem of such magnitude, it’s easy to ask “why use eco-friendly products?” and “what good will it do?”, but it’s important to remember that whatever positive change you can bring about will make a sizable difference to your business, your customers and your community.

You’ve probably heard that environmentally friendly packaging can be used effectively to reduce fast-food packaging waste, but how? 

Recyclable, recycled, biodegradable and compostable packaging:

1) Reduces the amount of non-recyclable waste produced by businesses and consumers, decreasing the number of waste products that end up in landfills.

2) Puts more emphasis on sustainability and sustainable culture, encouraging recycling and using renewable resources to create packaging.

3) Helps businesses win more environmentally conscious customers, allowing them to diversify their markets and appeal to wider audiences.

4) Is more aesthetically pleasing and often more practical than it’s non-sustainable counterparts.

While eco-friendly packaging might not change the world overnight, it tackles the highly significant environmental issues caused by single-use plastic packaging. The low recyclability and lack of reusability of plastic containers — like those that often accompany your takeaway food — are some of the most harmful examples of poorly thought-out packaging. But the good news is that there are better alternatives available, and more innovative and eco-friendly solutions are always being developed.

What Does the Future of Fast-Food Waste Look Like? 

The future of fast-food waste looks to be in safe hands since the global fast-food packaging waste problem has inspired some of the brightest minds to try and solve the issue. The latest developments in biodegradable packaging are a ray of hope, offering incredible packaging solutions that large scale businesses could implement in just a matter of years.

Eco-bowls made from sugarcane pulp and biodegradable spoons constructed using avocado seeds are readily available for environmentally conscious businesses to take advantage of. With so many exciting developments and innovations already in the works, who knows what exciting ideas we’ll be presented with that’ll help us all move towards a greener future.

Changing the World, One Takeaway at a Time

If you’re an eco-conscious fast-food service, what can you do right now to turn the tide on fast-food packaging waste? Investing in eco-friendly packaging products like grease-proof pizza boxes or biodegradable Kraftware is an excellent place to start. Global fast-food giants are beginning to follow suit, but a healthy planet is a shared responsibility between businesses of all sizes, as well as their consumers.

Not only can you reduce your carbon footprint with eco-friendly products like those previously mentioned, but you’ll also be helping society as a whole to pay more attention to the products they buy and how they dispose of their packaging. 

Do you want to start making a difference with your takeaways? Check out our eco-friendly packaging products, perfect for all kinds of takeaway cuisine. Save on packaging costs, reduce waste and help to protect the environment with our recycled, recyclable, compostable and biodegradable packaging solutions today.