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KFC drinks the Kool-Aid

KFC Go Cup
Caving to pressure from environmental activist organization As You Sow (Oakland, CA), the company promises to eliminate non-recoverable or non-reusable plastic packaging by 2025.

And another one drinks the Kool-Aid. This time it’s KFC, part of Yum! Brands Inc., that has caved to As You Sow’s demands by committing to eliminate non-recoverable or non-reusable plastic packaging by 2025. Since most of its packaging is currently coated paper board (buckets and boxes), which is non-recyclable, I’m trying to figure out if they will be changing those packaging items to recyclable plastic buckets and boxes for their take-out meals.

The chicken chain said it will partner with suppliers and franchisees to identify plastic alternatives for straws, plastic bags, cutlery and lids, and that it will support franchisees in their efforts to reduce plastic waste.

The KFC Go Cup received an award in 2014 for Best Part Design from the In-Mold Decorating Association. The polypropylene cup with an in-mold label is easily recyclable.

According to Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President of As You Sow (Oakland, CA), his organization “has been in dialogue with KFC to develop a comprehensive policy on sustainable packaging, making all packaging recyclable or compostable, and ensuring that on-site waste is collected and dealt with responsibly.” However, MacKerron then called KFC’s newly announced efforts, “a weak step. By only committing to make materials recoverable, not recyclable, it leaves a giant loophole that some of these materials will be incinerated or converted to fuel, which is not part of the circular economy approach. The company is also not committing to collect packaging from front-of-house in its restaurants.” He cites McDonald’s “stronger commitment to ensure that all packaging in its stores is recycled by 2025.”

First of all, I would hope that KFC would convert all of its buckets from unrecyclable and environmentally unfriendly coated paperboard to reusable and/or recyclable injection molded plastic buckets and boxes for take-out meals. That would be a big step in meeting As You Sow’s demands.

In 2014, Yum! Brands and Berry Plastics’ Design Center won an award for Best Part Design from the In-Mold Decorating Association (IMDA) for the KFC Go Cup (pictured) for take-out snacks. The cup is polypropylene with an in-mold label, making the entire Go Cup easily recyclable. StackTeck Ltd. won a Gold Award at the IMDA parts competition that year for its development of the 64-oz. TRIM (thin recess injection molded) pail for KFC. That thin-walled bucket, which is molded in Southeast Asia for KFC outlets in that region, is also reusable by consumers and fully recyclable thanks to its full-wrap in-mold label.

It was obvious that 2014 was a great year for KFC’s sustainability thinking, which involved new plastic packaging that is fully and easily recyclable, so that should please MacKerron and his cohorts at As You Sow.

As far as replacing plastic bags with paper bags, I’m not sure paper bags are so environmentally friendly, as it takes more resources (especially precious water) to make paper bags than it does to make plastic bags. When you add in the heavier weight of paper bags, which adds up to more fuel for greater transportation costs, plastic is far more sustainable for bags than paper.

If MacKerron is worried about incineration or conversion into fuel not being part of the “circular economy,” he should realize that both of those methods are extremely sustainable. One of plastics’ primary values is that these materials have the same BTUs (or more) pound-for-pound as coal. I’m thinking that MacKerron should be really excited and happy about the incineration of plastic for the production of energy that would prevent more coal from being used. I’m sure he’s jumping up and down (maybe through that “giant loophole”) with joy over that prospect!

KFC should be congratulated for its efforts in replacing unrecyclable coated paper buckets and boxes with fully recyclable take-out containers. It is doing a great job using the most sustainable and recyclable materials available. Everyone in the plastics industry should contact KFC and thank it for the great efforts made in sustainability, and encourage the fast food giant to replace all its coated paperboard buckets and boxes with environmentally friendly plastic ones.

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