New Report: Greening Fast Food Packaging

Greening Fast Food Packaging report cover
Today, Dogwood Alliance released “Greening Fast Food Packaging: A Roadmap to Best Practices,” which outlines eight key attributes of environmentally friendly fast food packaging, and provides simple guidance on how to assess environmental impacts in the supply chain.  The report highlights leaders in the fast food industry that have undertaken key initiatives that will help move the entire sector forward.  Also included is a valuable action plan to focus corporate sustainability efforts.

Issues associated with greening fast food packaging are complex, and improvement requires an intentional and comprehensive approach.  The roadmap reveals straightforward opportunities for companies to take meaningful action rather than greenwashing empty efforts.  Leaders in the sector such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have proven that with a commitment from the top leadership down, real progress is possible.

For fast food companies, the key place to start is with paper packaging.  Paper makes up the lion’s share of fast food packaging, and destructive impacts to forests and communities from paper production are well documented.  The work begins when corporate leadership adopts an environmental paper packaging policy that includes reduction in overall use of packaging, increase in use of recycled fiber, and elimination of controversial sources of paper, including fiber from endangered forests, and natural forests converted to tree plantations.

“Real leadership emerged from companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks who have taken important steps to reduce packaging, increase the use of recycled content, and eliminate controversial sources of paper originating from destructive logging practices,” said Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director at Dogwood Alliance and one of the report’s authors.  “Unfortunately, some companies have chosen to simply paint their paper packaging green by utilizing the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification which actually certified destructive logging practices as sustainable.”

The report highlights key leaders who stepped out from the pack to take initiative on the eight key attributes.  For example, Starbucks has committed to reducing the overall use of packaging and pushed the FDA to increase the maximum allowable recycled content in food grade packaging.  Another great example of leadership came from McDonald’s, who adopted an industry leading environmental packaging policy that included both continued progress on the increased use of recycled fiber but also took a comprehensive approach to its non-recycled paper packaging.  That commitment eliminates fiber coming from the conversion of natural forests to plantations and gives a clear preference to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, the only paper certification broadly endorsed by the environmental community. These initiatives involved multiple stakeholders, from packaging suppliers to environmental organizations, and set the new standard for excellence.

Unfortunately, while there are standout leaders, a number of key companies continue to greenwash rather than take real action.  The report shines the spotlight on companies like Yum! Brands, the target of the Dogwood Alliance Kentucky Fried Forests campaign, who rely on the highly-criticized SFI certification, which certifies as sustainable the worst forest practices including logging of endangered forests, conversion of natural forests to plantations, and large-scale clearcutting.

In addition to highlighting the key issues associated with paper packaging – reduction, increased use recycled fiber, and elimination of controversial paper sources – the report highlights other attributes for across the board greening of a company’s packaging.  The other key attributes include corporate leadership, utilizing a full life cycle approach, increasing in-store recycling and recovery, eliminating toxic inks and labels, and managing the overall carbon footprint.

“We hope that by boiling down complex issues into a straightforward, stepwise action plan, companies can make progress on their packaging, creating a win-win for our forests and the corporate bottom-line,” continued Quaranda.  “By following our roadmap and working with experts in key areas associated with the packaging supply chain, more companies can lead rather than lag further behind.”

The full report, which also includes an easy to use pull-out supplier survey to assess a company’s current packaging, can be reviewed and downloaded at


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Dogwood Alliance is increasing protection for millions of acres of Southern forests by transforming the way corporations, landowners and communities value them for their climate, wildlife and water benefits. Dogwood Alliance has revolutionized the environmental practices of some of the world’s largest corporations. To support Dogwood Alliance’s call for KFC to adopt sustainable packaging practices send a letter to KFC leadership via, for more information on the organization visit

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