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Yum! Brands’ New Packaging Policy Has the Potential To Make a Global Impact

Yum! Brands’ New Packaging Policy Has the Potential To Make a Global Impact

Published 04-11-23

Submitted by Yum! Brands

Four different take out containers from different restaurants.
Image provided by Yum! Brands.

The World Bank estimates that 2 billion tons of waste is generated, from both businesses and residences, across the globe each year. As one of those companies, Yum! is looking to change this by leveraging the power of its 55,000 KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill restaurants to be part of the solution by reimagining its iconic packaging like the KFC bucket, Pizza Hut pizza boxes and Taco Bell sauce packets.

In collaboration with parent company Yum!, each brand is shifting its existing packaging to more sustainable options. This includes transitioning away from plastics, while simultaneously developing packaging solutions – via a new policy – that sets sustainability standards for its restaurants and possibly influencing the industry to make broader change. Yum!’s new policy, led by increased investments in circularity, which is the creation of a product with the intent that it gets recycled and thus goes back into the supply chain, consists of the following three measures:

  1. The elimination of unnecessary packaging
  2. The shift to more sustainable materials
  3. The support of better recycling systems and reusable products

"It’s our responsibility as the world’s largest restaurant company to help solve for the amount of waste that ends up in landfills,” said Jon Hixson, Yum! chief sustainability officer & vice president of global government affairs. “And for years, we’ve been diligently working on this challenge, and it’s now been unified across the 150-plus countries and territories in which we operate, so that’s what’s really exciting.”

While each brand is in a different stage in its sustainable packaging journey, they now have one cohesive blueprint to follow and can lean on each other while striving toward the same three goals. Here’s how they plan to do just that.

stack of three Pizza Hut boxes.

Eliminate unnecessary packaging and shifting to sustainable materials

Unrecoverable plastics are often found in wrappers, cup lids, cutlery and bags and are prevalent around the world due to their inexpensive cost and abundance in supply. But they can’t be recycled, which makes them a key focus area in Yum!’s new policy.

As companies move away from unrecoverable plastics, which most likely end up in landfills, there’s an opportunity for them to build their reputation as sustainable stewards when it comes to packaging by shifting to more sustainable alternatives.

"At Pizza Hut, we’re lucky to be starting from a position of strength when it comes to plastics due to using primarily corrugated cardboard,” explained James Watts, Pizza Hut global chief people & Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) officer, adding that plastics in consumer-facing packaging have completely been eliminated from its restaurants in India and Brunei. Pizza Huts in New Zealand and Australia are close to the complete removal of consumer-facing plastics and are 95% and 90% plastic-free, respectively.

“We remain focused on closing the gaps that exist around unnecessary plastics and have also started to explore how we can use our packaging as a way to educate customers on how to recycle them,” Watts said.

Pizza Hut’s sister brands, KFC, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill, are also in the process of removing unrecoverable plastics from their packaging.

A KFC logo bucket of fried chicken.

With 27,000 restaurants across 147 countries, KFC is taking “a mindful approach” when it comes to transitioning to more sustainable materials, according to KFC Global Director of Sustainability & Packaging Susan Miles. Globally, the brand has moved from expanded polystyrene plastic (styrofoam) to more recyclable plastic or fiber-based containers for its side items and has purchased most of its paper-based packaging with fiber from responsibly managed forests and recycled sources.

Also, several KFC markets have eliminated plastic straws, cutlery and bags. But, Miles said, that’s just the start, and the brand is now looking to adopt additional practices developed in its individual markets, like a widely recyclable, plastic-free bucket in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and Canada’s compostable poutine bucket made of bamboo.

“By using new materials and methods of making buckets, we are able to source a more sustainable alternative while staying true to our iconic bucket, which our customers know and love,” Miles said.

For its part, Taco Bell is rolling out recyclable wraps and bags for its burritos, tacos, Crunchwraps and more. And The Habit Burger Grill transitioned from plastic to-go bags to paper in 2022, eliminating 288,000 lbs. of plastic in the United States (U.S.). annually. The brand also sources more than 97% of its paper-based packaging from responsibly managed forests and recycled sources.

“These are exciting changes for us because so much of our brand is tied to authenticity and living with purpose, just as our founders did,” said The Habit Burger Grill Chief Operating Officer Iwona Alter. “Creating a platform for packaging that is focused on sustainability ensures that we can continue to serve our guests delicious food that people trust.”

A brown paper bag "the Habit Burger Grill" on the side. A person walking, carrying it.

Recycling and reusables

Despite Yum!’s best efforts, not everything in each brand’s packaging suite can be eliminated or sustainably sourced. This is where the implementation of recycling programs is making a difference.

In addition to converting consumer-facing packaging to recyclable, compostable or reusable materials, Taco Bell is also adding recycling and/or composting bins in its restaurants where infrastructure permits. Another important change happened when Taco Bell provided a recycling option for its sauce packets in the U.S., giving customers the ability to mail-in used sauce packets for recycling, thanks to a partnership with TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company known for recycling hard-to-recycle materials.

“The TerraCycle partnership is one that consumers are enthusiastic about,” said Missy Schaaphok, Taco Bell director of Global Nutrition & Sustainability. “But the big unlock with this program is the fact that we’ve expanded it to include sauce packets of any kind and brand, not just Taco Bell’s. At the same time, we’re also exploring other ways to bring our fans the sauce they love, with less waste.”

Pizza Hut also is focused on making its packaging, primarily made up of corrugated cardboard, more recyclable. Pizza boxes in Australia are made from 100% recycled content while that number is up to 70% in the U.K. At the same time, the brand is looking to educate consumers and work with groups that influence local governments and municipalities on the recyclability of its cardboard pizza boxes.

Taco bell and Terracycle logos. Sauce packets arranged on the left to form a recycle symbol.

What the future holds

While Yum! and its four brands remain committed to making a difference, challenges still exist as they must work around fragmented regulations worldwide surrounding packaging and sustainability.

“There has been a lot of progress made, at the global level, in terms of creating a more sustainable ecosystem of products and operational efficiencies throughout our restaurant system. At Yum!, we’re committed to good growth. We can’t do that without a plan to preserve our planet,” Hixson said. “From our packaging initiatives to the work we’re doing on forest stewardship and climate change, we are dedicated to making progress on our Recipe for Good.”

Moving forward, Yum! and each of its distinctive brands have an eye on the future and are working toward their public commitments.

For more information about Yum!’s Recipe for Good, click here.

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Yum! Brands

Yum! Brands

Yum! Brands, Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, has over 54,000 restaurants in more than 155 countries and territories, operating the Company’s brands – KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell – global leaders of the chicken, pizza and Mexican-style food categories. The Company’s family of brands also includes The Habit Burger Grill, a fast-casual restaurant concept specializing in made-to-order chargrilled burgers, sandwiches and more. Yum! Brands was named to the 2021 Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America and was ranked on Newsweek’s list of 2021 America’s Most Responsible Companies. In 2022, Yum! Brands was named to 3BL Media’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

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