Reusable Good, Forest Destruction Bad

Earlier this month KFC and its parent company Yum! Brands, the largest restaurant company in the world, responded to Dogwood Alliance’s campaign by introducing reusable packaging containers for its side dishes. This was one of multiple requests we made of the company and we applaud the small step they have taken forward by becoming the first major fast food chain in the US to introduce reusable packaging. The fast food industry is one of the largest consumers of throwaway packaging in the world and our campaign challenges companies like KFC to find innovative solutions like the new reusable container to address the massive amount of waste associated with this industry and the environmental impacts of such consumption. In addition to the company’s earlier commitment to increase the amount of recycled paper it uses for its packaging we see this as a positive move forward toward a leadership position in the industry. Clearly these represent steps in the right direction. We hope this means KFC will indeed dig in and work to green its entire packaging supply chain.

In the same announcement, KFC also stated that 90% of its paper packaging is now certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Unfortunately, since its creation by the largest paper and timber companies in the United States, the SFI has been lambasted by the environmental community as a rubber stamp, putting a fake green label on the most destructive forestry practices. In fact, there is currently a complaint before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seeking to shut down the SFI for false marketing claims and challenging its non-profit status.

Since we know a majority of KFC’s paper packaging comes from the Southern US and have traced the company’s iconic bucket to the destruction of endangered forests on the mid-Atlantic coast, the SFI seal of approval means more destruction of the lands, waterways and communities we hold dear in our region. In addition to certifying the logging of endangered forests, the SFI allows for large-scale clearcutting, conversion of natural forests to sterile pine plantations, massive use of toxic chemical in forest management, the use of genetically engineered trees, ditching and draining of wetlands, and various other destructive practices. By embracing the SFI, KFC is siding with the worst of the worst paper companies and greenwashing the continued devastation of the forests and communities of its home region.

A clear path forward would be to integrate more of our sustainable packaging requests of the company as they continue down the promised road to sustainability. In addition to reusable containers and increased use of post-consumer recycled paper, the company needs to look at strategies for reducing its overall paper use and implement recycling initiatives so all the packaging does not end up as litter or in a landfill. On sustainable paper sourcing, the company should eliminate its most controversial sources of paper and switch to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which is embraced by environmental organizations worldwide as the only certification system that prevents the worst practices in the woods. Unlike the SFI, the FSC does not allow logging of endangered forests, continued conversion of natural forests to plantations, ditching and draining of wetlands, the use of genetically engineered trees, and the widespread use of toxic chemicals.

Clearly KFC is making progress and we appreciate that. Unfortunately its journey to sustainability is not complete and we fear the company has been duped by and other paper companies who hide behind the SFI. We hope that KFC will not continue to fall victim to the industry’s greenwashing and will meet all of our requests. KFC is well-positioned to be a real leader in the fast food industry and all it takes now is a little greater resolve to protect the forests and communities of its home region, the Southern US.

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