Going packaging almost not recycled – Sustainable Entrepreneurship

The packaging of to go stores and fast food chains is far from sustainable. The packaging is hardly recycled, and the opportunities for recycling are very limited. This is shown by research from the environmental organization Natuur & Milieu. Whether it is coffee cups, soda cups, sandwich bags or chip trays, no less than 85% of the packaging ends up in the incinerator after a very short period of use. Noteworthy: none of the paper packaging can be recycled. Nature & Environment talks about an unpleasant picture. “Recycling has been on the agenda for years, and yet we are now at the point where there is absolutely nothing to do with millions of disposable packaging every day. This speaks for a very rapid switch to reusable packaging.’

Every year in the Netherlands we throw away more than seven billion disposable cups and food packaging for direct consumption. Nature & Environment focuses its research on thirteen major ones gobrands, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Julia’s, Hema, AH go and kiosk. The researchers have looked at the packaging material, waste sorting in and around the shops, reusability and the selection of reusable variants.

‘This research shows that the sustainability of this waste stream is particularly poor. Things really need to change. We can only contain this enormous flow with reusable packaging,” says Rob van Tilburg, Director of Programs at Natuur & Milieu.

Waste sorting does not solve the problem

The research shows that the ‘paper-based’ packaging, such as cardboard coffee cups, are all incinerated instead of being recycled. This is contrary to the sustainable image of paper packaging. About three quarters of the plastic packaging is incinerated and a quarter is recycled. The fact that so much packaging ends up in the incinerator is because there is almost no waste sorting gopackaging is. Better separation would be a big improvement for plastic packaging, although packaging design is another issue. This is because the design does not sufficiently take into account what is required for proper recycling. For paper packaging, moisture and food residues are the main culprits. If paper is contaminated, recycling is no longer possible.


The research also shows that recycled packaging is still in its infancy. For hot drinks only, reusable options are offered in some places. It is mainly about the customer bringing their own cup. Van Tilburg: ‘It would be much better if reusable cups were offered and accepted by the retailer as standard. Just as it happens with bottle deposit.’ Furthermore, coffee and tea cups make up only 17% of the total packaging supply, the research shows that there is still no reusable packaging offered for the rest of the consumption.


From 1 July 2023, retailers and the restaurant industry are obliged to supply theirs goassortment also allows for recycling. For disposable cups and trays, they must ask for an additional contribution from the customer. The government decided this in the spring in response to European legislation on plastic use. In addition, last week Brussels launched a proposal to reduce the amount of packaging material. It also includes targets for recyclable packaging, for both go as consumption on the spot.


Nature & Environment wants the government and companies to do more to make recycled packaging the norm. “The cabinet’s new rules are insufficient, especially for to-go packaging. With these rules, the consumer remains the one to decide whether to bring their own cup or container. It won’t be enough. You actually wish businesses would offer reusable cups and trays as standard, it’s much more customer friendly. The government should therefore make recycling packaging mandatory. Companies will then have to take major steps to adapt their packaging policy accordingly. We know from consumers that they would like to switch to recycled packaging, which is probably a good motivation for the companies,’ hopes Van Tilburg.

Mission Recycling

The investigation regarding gopackaging follows a larger national study into the recyclability of plastic packaging in supermarkets. The study by Natuur & Milieu showed that no less than two-thirds of packaging cannot be recycled properly. Apart from limited waste sorting, the reasons for this can mainly be found in the design of the packaging. Supermarkets also only offer very limited recycled packaging, the conclusion read. To make it easier for entrepreneurs to import recyclable packaging, Natuur & Milieu is working with Enviu and the Recycling Network on the Mission Reuse program.

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