Packaging & Recycling

Packaging helps us safely and conveniently serve our guests the food they love, but we know that packaging and plastic waste is threatening the health of our planet and we have a responsibility to help solve this challenge.

Our sustainable packaging strategy focuses on four key pillars that drive towards the protection of natural resources and the reduction of waste through increased circularity. Working closely with our suppliers, we are innovating to reduce our use of packaging and promote reusable alternatives, transition to more sustainable materials, design for circularity and working to help our guests to recycle and divert waste from landfill.

Our Goals

Reduce Packaging

  • Increase the use of reusable packaging alternatives
  • Find opportunities to reduce material volume through innovative design and restaurant policies

Make Responsible Material Choices

  • Increase the use of renewable and recycled materials
  • Source paper fiber-based packaging from recycled or certified sources
  • Phase out intentionally added PFAS from guest packaging by 2025 or sooner
  • Reduce problematic or unnecessary plastic - those which are difficult to recycle or compost due to their format, composition, or size
  • Fully eliminate the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging by 2022

Design for Circularity

  • Work to make our guest packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable within the markets in which we operate around the world

Recover and Recycle

  • Recycle guest packaging in restaurants where commercially viable and where infrastructure is available, globally by 2025

Our Strategy

Reduce Packaging

To tackle the challenge of waste management, we strive to reduce packaging through reusable alternatives across our business on an ongoing basis.

In October 2020, Burger King and Tim Hortons announced a partnership with zero-waste packaging provider, Loop, to pilot a deposit-based new reusable and returnable packaging system for food and beverages on the go. Pilot testing began in five Tim Hortons restaurants in Toronto in 2021, and followed in 2022 in five Burger King restaurants New Jersey as well as in the UK at four Burger King restaurants in Ipswich and one in Newmarket. During the pilot period, guests could use any of the return bins located at participating restaurants to return their reusable cups or food containers, and would then refunded their deposit via the Loop mobile app.

Pilot tests have been launched to test reusable and returnable takeout packaging at Burger King and Tim Hortons restaurants.

In May 2022, Tim Hortons launched a similar test in Vancouver in partnership with Return-It, building on what was learned in the Toronto pilot. Here, guests could return their reusable cup at one of 10 participating Tims restaurants in Vancouver or to one of 11 additional Return-It stations located across the city, including in transit stations and other public locations. Guests will then receive their deposit back via e-transfer.

The 11 Return-It stations will also collect single-use cups from Tim Hortons and other brands for recycling. The pilot project will help evaluate a scalable solution for a reusable cup program as well as the viability of a broader, permanent program that would allow single-use cups to be collected for recycling at a number of public drop-off points.

The tests are helping us learn how guests respond to a reusable and returnable packaging system, and how to refine a system that aims to be seamless and enjoyable. It’s our next step towards making reusable packaging models more convenient and accessible for guests.

Tim Hortons launches reusable and returnable cup pilot in Vancouver with Return-It as part of mission to reduce single-use waste.

This work builds on a long history of promoting reusable alternatives for guest packaging. In 1978, Tim Hortons pioneered the reusable cup program with the TimMug. In Canada, Tim Hortons offers reusable cup programs where guests who bring in a reusable cup enjoy a discount on their coffee, while guests who dine in the restaurant are served their beverage in a china mug.

In 2020, after nearly 35 years of running the Roll Up the Rim™ contest with paper cups, Tim Hortons modernized its iconic contest to allowed guests to play digitally for the first time. The brand also recently implemented the government mandated single-use cup fee in restaurants in Vancouver. As the coffee leader in Canada, Tim Hortons has taken a firm position on single-use paper cups and will be executing a decade-long marketing effort to influence consumer behaviour and support the transition to reusable alternatives.

Burger King Denmark has also implemented and continues to use a reusable cup system for in-store guests. In 2020, Burger King Sweden piloted reusable cups for soda beverages in four restaurants, and in 2021, Burger King France piloted reusable cups and cutlery for dine-in guests in one restaurant.

In addition to increasing the adoption of reusable alternatives, finding opportunities to eliminate packaging items, or reduce the amount of material used for remaining single-use packaging helps to reduce our total packaging footprint.

For example, napkins introduced across Tim Hortons restaurants in Canada and the United States in 2021 use 25% less material than before, saving an estimated 900 tonnes of paper per year. The napkins are made of 100% recycled fiber, including 90% post-consumer content.

In addition, Tim Hortons changed restaurant operation standards and launched a consumer campaign to discontinue the practice of ‘double-cupping’ in Canadian restaurants, encouraging the use of a 100% recycled fibre cup sleeve instead. Full implementation of this change is estimated to have the potential to save about 2,700 tonnes of cups per year, which is equivalent to 200 million cups.

Burger King also recently tested two new options for Whopper®sandwich wraps in the US, which represent a 13 percent and 34 percent reduction in paper compared to previous wraps, respectively. This could translate to an additional 500 to 1,500 metric tons of paper waste eliminated annually across the U.S.

Making Responsible Material Choices

Across our brands at RBI, and in markets around the world, our approved guest-facing packaging can be grouped at a high level into a few key categories of materials.

Global Guest Packaging Portfolio By Material1

Our sustainability strategy for guest packaging materials begins with increasing the use of materials from renewable, recycled, or certified sources and reducing problematic or unnecessary plastics.

Based on 2019 data, about 86% of the material used in our packaging portfolio at RBI is fiber-based, like paper, cartonboard, or wood1. About 75% of approved, guest-facing fiber-based packaging across the Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes brands comes from recycled or certified sources today, and our brands are working to have all approved, guest-facing fiber-based packaging come from recycled or certified sources globally. We also see an opportunity to increase the use of recycled fiber across our portfolio, and our goal is to do so over time. In 2020, Tim Hortons increased the recycled content of their paper takeaway bags, so that multi-item paper bags in Canada and the US are now made of 100% recycled fiber. A paper cup that contains 30% post-consumer recycled content has also been tested in select Canadian restaurants. Many other packaging items already use recycled content today, including donut and muffin boxes, hot beverage sleeves, takeaway bags and napkins at Tim Hortons Canada, and takeaway bags at Burger King.

In 2019 we set a goal for our guest-facing packaging portfolio to come from renewable, recycled, or certified sources by 2025. This means that the estimated 14% of our packaging material comprised of plastic1 would either need to transition to renewable or recycled plastics, transition to a compliant fiber-based alternative, or be eliminated completely. Over the past year, we have studied the available solutions today, supply availability, and costs, and anticipate significant challenges to reaching that target by 2025, especially because bioplastics and recycled food-grade plastics are in relatively low supply. We also recognize that we have a role to play in strengthening the demand for recycled plastics and creating the market and material availability that is critical to support true circularity.

Based on our insights to date, we have revised our goals with the intention of setting realistic expectations while striving towards a consistent north star. To continue on the path forward for our plastic packaging, we will initially focus on pursuing two strategic goals across our brands: 1) reduce problematic or unnecessary plastics that are hard to recycle due to their format, composition, or size, and which are more likely to end up in the environment;and 2) increase the recycled content of our plastic packaging.


We have already made progress on our first goal: at Burger King and Popeyes, EPS foam3, which is difficult to recycle, has been eliminated globally from approved guest packaging offered by centrally managed distributors as of Q2 2022, and the brands have required that markets do not use EPS foam for any local guest packaging items.

Popeyes has phased out EPS foam globally from approved guest packaging offered by centrally managed distributors.

In addition, while Tim Hortons does not use EPS foam in approved guest packaging, the brand has made strides to transition away from other problematic single-use plastics. Tim Hortons launched a strawless cold beverage lid in Canada and the US that uses 15% less plastic than the former lid and straw combination. For frozen beverages that still require the use of a straw, paper straws have now replaced plastic straws across Canada. Tim Hortons also launched wooden stir sticks in Canada and the US, which is expected to avoid 186 million plastic stir sticks annually.

In 2021, Burger King US also began piloting strawless cold beverage lids as well as paper straws in 51 restaurants in Miami.

Cumulatively across Tim Hortons Canada and Burger King markets in Europe and China, we switched over an estimated 1 billion traditional plastic straws to alternative materials in 2021.

At Tim Hortons, the introduction of strawless beverage lids in 2019 and paper straws in 2021 have avoided an estimated 420 million plastic straws annually. Burger King US is testing paper and plant-based straws along with strawless lids, which could potentially eliminate up to 500 million single-use plastic straws annually from participating U.S. Burger King® restaurants.

Tim Hortons has also been developing a new plastic-free fibre lid and plans to test in select restaurants in 2022.

Burger King India banned single use plastics, and continues to use materials like birch wood for forks, spoons, and stirrers. The Burger King brand has also launched paper straws for soda beverages in seven European countries, with further expansion planned. Additionally, Burger King in Europe is transitioning 25 million plastic sundae cups to paper and avoiding 32 million plastic lids by introducing the Fusion paper flap cup.

When it comes to making responsible material choices, we continuously review our policies on raw material sourcing and have specific requirements for the approved products that are used in our restaurants to ensure food safety. 

In the United States, this means ensuring our product and packaging specifications are compliant with FDA standards. In Canada, this means our product and packaging specifications are compliant with Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency standards. Outside North America, our products are compliant with local regulation.

As part of our commitment to safe ingredients, our product specifications require that all approved plastic toys and promotional drinkware not contain bisphenol A (“BPAs”) and prohibit the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOAs”) within our approved paper and packaging products. This policy applies to all guest-facing approved packaging suppliers that conduct business with the Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes brands and is monitored for compliance by the RBI Quality Assurance team.

As a next step in our product stewardship journey, the Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes brands have required that any added4 perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) be phased out from all approved, guest-facing packaging materials5globally by the end of 2025 or sooner.

Our procurement and brand teams are evaluating several alternatives that achieve the same functional characteristics without the need for added PFAS.

For example, Tim Hortons Canada recently worked with one of the world’s leading paper mills to develop alternative materials that embed the necessary functional characteristics directly in the fiber chemistry, which eliminated the need for PFAS. Following successful trials, implementation of the new material has begun.

There is more work to do across our brands and regions, but results have been positive. We plan to share more details about our packaging roadmap as it relates to PFAS as we progress.

Design for Circularity

One of our waste reduction strategies is to serve guests the food they love in packaging that can be recycled or composted in their local communities. One challenge we face is that some communities and regions lack the necessary facilities or incentives to effectively process all types of plastics and materials in our packaging.

To tackle this challenge, we recognize that we have an opportunity to improve the design of our packaging to support acceptance in local waste diversion programs, so we’re working to make our guest packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable within the markets in which we operate around the world.

Tim Hortons has led the way across our brands to work towards improving the recoverability of hot beverage cups and lids. In January 2022, the brand launched a test of an innovative new hot beverage cup design at select Vancouver restaurants, featuring cups that are made with up to 20 per cent post-consumer recycled content and are compostable and recyclable. This design allows a greater proportion of the cup's paper fibre to be recovered in the repulping process. The aim is to drive better economics for those that collect and repurpose post-consumer material and could help in our goal to have more recycling programs across Canada accept Tims cups. Currently, Tim Hortons hot beverage cups can be recycled in British Columbia and in some municipalities in other provinces. We continue to work with key stakeholders in industry and government to support the cup being accepted within municipal programs.

Tim Hortons is introducing new white hot beverage lids at select restaurants across Canada, an initiative which aims to improve the value of these materials to recyclers.

In addition, Tim Hortons new hot beverage lid is made from polypropylene (PP), a material type that is accepted in the vast majority of curbside recycling programs across Canada. Beyond making the switch to PP, Tim Hortons is also introducing new white hot beverage lids at select restaurants across Canada. By changing the colour of the lids from brown to white, the brand aims to improve the value of these materials to recyclers. Based on industry consultations about the future of recycling in Canada, we believe that white recyclable materials have better potential to be reused and repurposed into more new products, helping us close the loop on recycling more of our packaging.

Tim Hortons also launched new paper-based wrappers for bagels and sandwiches in 2021 that replaced plastic-lined wrappers and are now fully recyclable.

A new compostable hot beverage cup is also being tested at a Burger King restaurant in Switzerland.

Recover and Recycle

We are working with our guests as well as leaders in the recycling space to pilot and understand how we can repurpose our packaging materials – creating value and responsibly managing these resources. We aim to play a part in finding new homes for the materials to make sure there will always be someone to collect and recycle it.

We are committed to facilitate access to waste diversion, and we’ve expanded the scope of our goal to recycling guest packaging in all Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes restaurants around the world where commercially viable and infrastructure is available, by 2025. Waste management is a complex and constantly evolving field, with variations in waste and recycling collection approaches between countries – and even between neighboring cities. This requires the consideration of several effective solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. We will work with communities, governments, and recycling facilities to advance progress in the area of waste collection, processing and diversion while seeking out new initiatives and more innovative ways for our packaging to flow through the system, avoid landfills, and limit our environmental impact.

One way this has come to life in the past year is through the launch of Circular Materials, a national not-for-profit producer responsibility organization (PRO) that serves, represents, and supports producers in building more efficient recycling systems across Canada. Circular Materials formed together with leading food, beverage and consumer products manufacturers, retailers and restaurants in Canada who supply designated packaging types (plastic, glass, metal or paper) to consumers, including Restaurant Brands International. Circular Materials Ontario supports strong producer-led governance in the transition of the province's more-than 250 local blue box programs to a new, province-wide collection system funded by producers and operated by PROs. Circular Materials also represents the evolution from product stewardship to a more circular economy where materials are collected, recycled and returned to producers for use as recycled content in new products and packaging.

Tim Hortons has launched a pilot of AI-assisted technology to drive increased recycling through guest education.

Additionally, Tim Hortons is piloting artificial intelligence-assisted technology at select restaurants across Canada with the goals of providing recycling and composting education for guests and driving increased recycling and diversion rates. Through a partnership with Vancouver-based Intuitive AI, waste bins at 12 restaurants across Canada will be equipped with a screen and product image recognition technology to identify packaging items that guests scan. The screen provides guidance to guests on whether the items they scanned can be recycled or go into the compost bin or should go in the waste bin. The test period will begin with an analysis of how guests are currently using the waste, recycling and compost bins in select restaurants before the on-screen guidance is turned on. The technology has now been installed at test restaurants in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Partnerships & Memberships

Disclosures

GRI

  • GRI 301: Materials
    • 103-1
    • 103-2
    • 103-3
  • GRI 306: Waste
    • 103-1
    • 103-2
    • 103-3

SASB

  • FB-RN-430a.1
    • FB-RN-430a.2
    • FB-RN-150a.1
    • FB-RN-150a.2

1Estimate as of 2019

2Certified sources defined as sources certified by at least one of the following certification bodies: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

3Standard requires that no CFC blowing agents should be added during the manufacturing of the polystyrene packaging.

4When testing packaging materials for Total Fluorine the results may indicate that trace amounts of Fluorine are present, when in practice no PFAS have been added to the packaging in the production process. This can result from Fluorine being embedded in materials and the manufacturing process – test results are unlikely to show no Fluorine, but elevated levels are a sign of added Fluorinated compounds. We continue to work with packaging vendors to test incoming raw materials to ensure added PFAS is not included in our packaging, including in the recycled content of some of our paper packaging.

5For purposes of this requirement, ‘Guest-facing packaging’ is defined as any item which arrives to a BURGER KING®, TIM HORTONS® or POPEYES® restaurant with no contents, for the sole purpose of packaging a BURGER KING®, TIM HORTONS® or POPEYES® food or drink product in-restaurant to serve to a guest. Food and drink items that are pre-packaged or branded product by suppliers (product manufactured, packaged and marketed, commonly with the producer’s logos/branding), by a third party are not in scope, and packaging of products sold by RBI brands through third-party retailers is not in scope.