McDonald's Is Testing Plastic-Free Concept Stores
Wooden spoons and edible condiment cups replace less eco-friendly options at "Better McDonald's" locations.
McDonald's currently has more than 1,470 restaurants scattered throughout Germany, but for 10 days in June, customers at its location inside the Mall of Berlin had a completely different experience when they ordered a Hamburger Royal Käse or a Schokolinsen-Saurer Apfel McFlurry.
For starters, all of the restaurant's burgers were served in packaging made from grass and they could've eaten that McFlurry with a small wooden spoon. From June 17 through June 26, the restaurant temporarily reinvented itself as the Better McDonald's Store — and, from a sustainability perspective, that wasn't just a clever name.
The Better McDonald's Store was completely plastic-free, which allowed the company to test out some alternatives to single-use plastics and to receive customer feedback on each of those items. In addition to paper straws, wooden cutlery, and grass-paper burger cartons, condiments and dipping sauces were served in edible waffle cups, and Chicken McNuggets were handed out in paper bags instead of cardboard cartons.
"Normally, McDonald's goes out with perfect solutions. This time we said, 'We don't have perfect solutions yet… please help us!'" Diana Wicht, the Sustainability Department Head for McDonald's Germany, said in a statement.
It's probably not a bad idea for the company to scroll through everyone's opinions before it changes things up on a permanent basis. Earlier this year, McDonald's replaced the plastic straws in its U.K. locations with paper straws, and they weren't exactly well-received: more than 53,000 people have signed a petition asking McDonald's to bring back the plastic. (The campaign creator's reason for his big ask? "So I can drink my milkshake proper.")
After customers complained that the straws disintegrated in sodas and milkshakes, the company attempted to improve them — but that caused an even bigger headache, because the new-and-improved versions can't currently be recycled. "As a result of customer feedback, we have strengthened our paper straws, so while the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups," a McDonald's spokesman told the BBC.
And in addition to online petitions and real-life grumbling, some people have tried to cash in on plastic straw nostalgia by trying to sell the OG versions on eBay. (As of this writing, even U.S. residents are trying to make a few bucks by swiping extra straws from their local McD's. "GET THEM BEFORE THEY'RE [sic] HISTORY," one still-active listing urges.)
As far as Berlin's Better McDonald's went, the McTesters gave high marks to the grass-paper packaging and to the fully edible sauce cups, but they weren't sold on wooden cutlery, with almost half of those surveyed describing the taste of the spoon as 'woody.' (But is that a bug or is it a feature?)
Canadian versions of the Better McDonald's Store are being tested in Ontario and British Columbia, and Food & Wine has reached out to McDonald's to see if there are any plans for a similar concept in the United States.
In the meantime, can someone in Germany mail us one of those chocolate-sour apple McFlurries?