Food Waste & Donations
As the global population rises, the world has more people to feed than ever before. Despite this, food waste is a serious global issue. The United Nations estimates that every year, a third of all food produced is either discarded, by consumers or retailers, or spoiled due to poor handling.1
McDonald’s believes that good food and precious resources should never go to waste, and we want to use our scale to help tackle this global challenge. We’re working with our supply chain and restaurants to ensure our food serves its purpose and we’re donating meals and ingredients to feed families in need in local communities across the globe.
This work became even more critical when COVID-19 struck in 2020. We found ourselves with a food surplus in many of our markets around the world because people were being asked to stay at home, or in some cases, our restaurants were required to close due to government restrictions. We also saw sudden unemployment and school closures, making food insecurity an even greater threat to our communities.
It’s not just about avoiding waste – it’s about directing an essential resource to the people who need it most. We take seriously our purpose to feed and foster community and, whether through serving hot meals in times of need or donating surplus food from our supply chain or ingredients from our restaurants to local food banks, we will continue to show up when our communities need us most.
Our long-term objective is to ensure our quality and safe food is used to its fullest potential, starting with feeding people and their communities.
Doing the right thing takes commitment and partnership. We work with suppliers across the globe to reduce food loss and waste in our supply chain. We also engage with Franchisees to reduce food going to waste in restaurants.
McDonald’s has a Global Food Disposition Policy to ensure that food is not wasted if it is not needed in our restaurants. The policy was put in place to support our suppliers and distributors globally to dispose of food in alignment with McDonald’s food waste hierarchy (see below), including food donations. In 2020, we expanded salvage methods (including retail sales) and updated our policy so ingredients like meat, lettuce, milk and cheese could be donated directly to food banks – reaching communities faster and with far larger quantities than ever before.
Our suppliers, Franchisees and crew are essential to our approach in ensuring our food supports communities in need. For example, in the U.S., we actively engage our Franchisees and suppliers in our food waste and donations strategy by providing suppliers with assistance in finding local donation partners and working closely with some of our Franchisees to avoid waste as outlined in our Global Food Disposition Policy. As a result, meal donation programs like the Thank You Meal, food donation efforts of our supply chain, or efforts like those of one of our Franchisees in Iowa, who donated Happy Meals, activity books and coloring supplies to support their community during COVID-19, happen throughout our system in ways that meet the needs of our local communities around the world.
In countries around the world, McDonald’s, our suppliers and Franchisees have quickly mobilized in response to the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Australia, for example, some of our Franchisee and Company-owned restaurants have added staple food items, like milk and bread, to their regular menus – enabling customers to shop for basics they’d usually find at supermarkets via McDonald’s contactless takeout and Drive-Thru services.
McDonald’s Food Waste Hierarchy
McDonald’s has developed a system to minimize food waste by aligning with our food waste hierarchy, including by enabling food donations to be made wherever possible. Our food waste approach is based on global best practices to avoid food waste and food loss, and is a critical part of McDonald’s sustainability and our purpose to feed and foster community.
Minimizing Food Waste and Ensuring Supply
Every day in over 100 countries around the world, we source beef, chicken, pork, fish, fresh produce and other ingredients from hundreds of local and global suppliers. Over the decades we have developed strong, trusted supplier relationships, making it possible for us to reliably feed millions of customers the world over.
Through these relationships, we are able to minimize food waste by working together to design and implement efficient production practices throughout our supply chain. Our suppliers in turn make sure that their production processes use raw materials and ingredients, such as butter and eggs, in a well-managed way when making products for our menu, like a burger bun or bakery item.
We are constantly learning and evolving. There are many levers we can pull in order to maintain control of our inventory, assure supply for our customers and avoid waste. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved quickly to further diversify our beef supply chain in the U.S. by adding new local suppliers and sourcing additional product globally where needed.
Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals
Our efforts to minimize waste in our kitchens and supply chain support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, in particular:
Supporting Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that we could deepen our impact in communities if we leveraged the agility of our supply chain to get more quality food into the hands of NGO partners to feed communities and ensure as little as possible went to waste.
As a global corporation, we have over 38,000 restaurants in 119 countries. This means that donating food or supplies isn’t straightforward. Our Franchisees, suppliers and distribution centers around the world have always given back to their communities and ensured we avoid food waste; however, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the guidance of existing and new partners like Food Donation Connection (FDC), the Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) and Feeding America, we have made sure that millions of pounds of stranded food has not gone to waste. Instead, that food has helped to feed people who need it in thousands of local communities around the world.
We also changed our food donation policy so that ingredients like meat, lettuce, milk and cheese could be donated directly to food banks – reaching communities faster and with far larger quantities than ever before.
Getting food to men, women and children in need is at the core of our mission. We are excited to support our food banks as they partner with McDonald’s vast global supply chain and network of restaurants to reach communities around the world who are facing additional challenges due to the impact of COVID-19.
Karen Hanner, GFN Director of Food Sourcing and Strategic Partnerships
U.S. – As of August 2020, McDonald’s and its suppliers in the U.S. donated over 9 million pounds of food from suppliers and distribution centers – worth more than $12 million dollars – to support local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southeast Asia – The McDonald’s team in Indonesia donated several pallets of frozen meat and cakes to families through GFN partners Food Cycle in Jakarta and Scholars of Sustenance in Bali. This was particularly helpful for the Bali community, which has been severely impacted due to the population’s dependence on tourism. In Singapore, we worked with The Food Bank Singapore to donate milk for migrant workers.
South Korea – We donated over 8,000 burgers and cups of coffee (May 2020), as well as 4,000 meal coupons to subway cleaning staff through the Seoul Volunteer Center. We also reached more than 50,000 people through our campaign to give away free burgers to firefighters and medical staff.
China – In Wuhan, we launched our Charity Kitchen Program to cook meals for hospital workers.
- Philippines – We opened up our kitchens to help feed those in need. As of September 2020, our Kindness Kitchens project has so far raised over $260,000 and provided close to 300,000 meals for frontline staff and those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with volunteer staff delivering food parcels to those most in need.
- Latin America – In several markets throughout Latin America operated by our Franchisee Arcos Dorados, McDonald’s has donated over 500 tons of meat, eggs, milk and produce to vulnerable communities through local organizations such as Banco de Alimentos, dedicated to reducing hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic.
McDonald’s also recognized first responders, medical personnel and others with programs such as McObrigado in Brazil, McGracias in Mexico, Meriendas Solidarias in Argentina and Ready to Eat Meals in Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Uruguay.
Europe – In Italy, Germany, the U.K. and Ireland, as citizens went into lockdown, McDonald’s partnered with organizations and local food banks to donate surplus ingredients such as eggs, cheese, milk, meat and produce to families in each of these countries. In Poland, restaurants have been supplying PowerPacks – free three-course meals – to frontline workers. So far, more than 71,000 (May 2020) have been donated to hospitals, care homes for children and the emergency services. In the U.K. and Ireland over 300 tons of food and more than 100,000 liters of milk have been distributed in more than 1,900 town and cities. Since March 2020, McDonald’s has provided 79 tons of surplus product to FareShare, equating to 188,099 meals. In Italy, the European Food Banks Federation was essential to supporting donations throughout the country.
Australia – McDonald’s is working with logistics partner Martin Brower Australia to support Foodbank, a nonprofit organization that provides food to charities and community groups. The partnership has resulted in regular donations of surplus food to Foodbank’s recipients, avoiding it being sent to landfill.
Russia – We served more than 500,000 free meals to ambulance staff at our Drive-Thrus as of May 2020. We also donated food to hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, and gave free lunches to volunteers who are taking care of elderly people.
Canada – In response to COVID-19, McDonald’s Canada donated over 250,000 pounds of food to food banks and other local charities.
New Zealand – McDonald’s is working with the GFN member Foodbank Canterbury and other local food donation organizations to donate hundreds of food items, including eggs, butter, lettuce, onions, apples, tomatoes and cheese, which help feed families in need.
Morocco – We launched #Mta7dine, a program developed with a delivery partner and local authorities to deliver free meals to child-focused charity groups in hospitals and children’s care homes across 19 cities.
- Lebanon – As well as coping with COVID-19, the Lebanese capital of Beirut also experienced a devastating explosion that destroyed a huge area of the city in August 2020. So far, we have distributed more than 8,000 burgers and 12,000 water bottles to those who are helping in the aftermath of the explosion.
Through our partnership with McDonald’s, we aim to get closer to eliminating food waste – especially when there are so many people who are in need of food. We look forward to partnering with McDonald’s to make sure that this quality food is getting into the hands of people who need it.
Tony Pupillo, Managing Director of Retail Food Industry Partnerships at Feeding America
Recycling Cooking Oil Into Biodiesel
In the U.K., food waste from kitchens is taken to an anaerobic digestion plant that makes renewable energy. Microorganisms break down the food, turning it into biofertilizer for farmers, and into biogas for the national grid and dairy businesses, where heat is used to pasteurize the milk and power the packing lines. Fresh organic milk is then transported to McDonald’s restaurants across the U.K. – creating the full circle! In addition, our logistics partner’s fleet runs on biodiesel; around 50% of which is from our used cooking oil. That’s a saving of over 11,500 tons of CO2 emissions annually when compared to ultra-low-sulfur diesel.
2 Our approach is informed by the work of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.