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 and strategy are the result of an extensive feasibility study conducted in 2021, where our supply chain and sustainability teams studied key parameters related to guest-facing packaging. These included understanding the range of commercially available raw materials, supply availability, costs, and how these factors compare with the needs of our brands. We plan to refresh our feasibility assessment by early 2024 to validate whether our current approach remains the right one for us, or identify any opportunities to make updates. This includes an updated assessment of the role and impact of reusable packaging within our global packaging portfolio.

Our Goals

Reduce Packaging

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

Make Responsible Material Choices

  1. Increase the use of renewable and recycled materials
  2. Source paper fiber-based packaging from recycled or certified sources
  3. Phase out intentionally added PFAS from guest packaging by 2025 or sooner
  4. Reduce problematic or unnecessary plastic - those which are difficult to recycle or compost due to their format, composition, or size
  5. Fully eliminate the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging by 2022
  6. Popeyes has phased out EPS foam globally from approved guest packaging offered by centrally managed distributors.

Design for Circularity

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

Recover and Recycle

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

Our Strategy

Reduce Packaging

One approach our brands are exploring to reduce packaging waste is to test and implement reusable alternatives, in a variety of formats.

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, each for a limited time. 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.

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. The pilot is an example of a pre-competitive, private-public partnership that enabled a larger network of 60+ return points across the city, including in transit stations and other public locations. After returning their reusable cup, guests receive their deposit back via e-transfer. This pilot is currently live and ongoing.

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 porcelain mug.

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, before rolling out nationally in 2022. Testing and continued implementation of a variety of reusable packaging models also took place at select Burger King restaurants in Germany, Spain and Portugal in 2022.

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, in 2021, napkins introduced across Tim Hortons restaurants in Canada and the United States used 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 2023, the brand launched a new breakfast and lunch wrapper featuring an efficient design that uses 75% less material than the prior wrap box, which is estimated to save more than 1,400 tonnes of material a year.

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

What we've learned: Q&A on Reusable Packaging Systems
with Tim Hortons (Canada)

Q: You’ve come a long way with reusable packaging in just two years. What has that roadmap looked like?
A: In our first phase of pilots, we focused on establishing a system that works functionally and meets our high standards for ensuring food safety. That meant developing an ecosystem of new service partners and assets, tech integrations, and operational and quality assurance procedures. In our second phase of testing, we’ve focused on reducing pain points, making the system as easy as possible for guests to understand and use. We’re continuously refining every aspect of the program – from the design of cups, bins and signage, to the return and deposit technology, and so on. As we look to the future, it’s become clear that reuse at scale can only work when it operates in a way that’s holistically sustainable for the planet and our business. With current models, efficient functioning hinges on high return rates, which reduce the economic and environmental impact per use by increasing the number of use cycles per reusable cup. Since reuse requires behavior change, achieving high adoption and return rates requires a frictionless system, the right incentives, and strong awareness. In each area, we still have a lot to learn.

Q: Biggest challenge so far?
A: Because reuse is not commonplace today, we have to teach guests from the ground up how to engage and why they should participate. Awareness and comfort with reuse continues to pose a real barrier for many guests, particularly for take-out. We found that educating guests about reuse options at the point of sale was effective for increasing adoption rates, but we also know that a restaurant team member’s primary job is to execute restaurant operations and provide a great experience, rather than convince guests to change their behaviour. Ideally, awareness means that guests are coming to our restaurants already knowing that they are going to participate in reuse.

Q: What opportunities are you most excited about?
A: The first would be to strengthen the supporting infrastructure for reuse systems through collaboration between governments and industry. Our pilot with Return-It, the City of Vancouver, and other brands in the city is an example of a pre-competitive, private-public partnership that helped to bring return points to public spaces across the city and ultimately create a larger network of drop bins, which is great for awareness and convenience. Washing and reverse logistics systems could benefit from cooperation as well. Many restaurants are not necessarily set up for washing capacity in-house considering the space and labour required, and existing offsite facility partners may not be readily available. Increasing affordable, shared, local washing capacity in key hubs through collaborative initiatives could potentially help improve the economics as well as the lifecycle sustainability of reuse programs. We’re also looking at new ways of increasing motivation and convenience. Optimizing the tech behind deposits and experimenting with incentive mechanisms are promising pathways for growth. Enabling borrow-a-cup programs in the drive-through requires more testing but could represent a step-change in the accessibility of reuse in future.

Making Responsible 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

1Based on internal data and inclusive of Tim Hortons, Burger King, and Popeyes approved guest-facing packaging globally, based on 2022 packaging volumes and estimates as of May 2023. This estimate excludes Firehouse Subs.

Fibre-Based Packaging

  1. Based on 2022 data, about 84% of the material used in our packaging portfolio across the Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes brands globally is fiber-based, like paper, cartonboard, or wood2.
  2. At end of 2022, 93% of the approved, guest-facing fiber-based packaging across the Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes brands globally came from recycled or certified3 sources.
  3. Some examples of fibre-based packaging items that use recycled content today include the donut and muffin boxes, hot beverage sleeves, takeaway bags and napkins at Tim Hortons in Canada, and takeaway bags and napkins at Burger King in the U.S.
  4. A paper cup that contains 30% post-consumer recycled content has also been tested in select Canadian Tim Hortons restaurants.

2Inclusive of Tim Hortons, Burger King, and Popeyes approved guest-facing packaging globally, based on 2022 packaging volumes and estimates as of May 2023. This estimate excludes Firehouse Subs.

3Certified 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).

Plastic Packaging

  1. Based on 2022 data, about 16% of the material used in our packaging portfolio at RBI is plastic.
  2. Our first objective when it comes to plastic packaging is to 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. Each year our brands continue to make progress towards this goal:
    1. EPS foam, which is difficult to recycle, has been eliminated globally from approved guest packaging as of 2022, and brands have required that markets do not use EPS foam4 for any local guest packaging items.
    2. Tim Hortons has significantly evolved their packaging portfolio over the last four years to reduce hard-to-recycle single-use plastics
      1. In 2019, the brand launched a strawless cold beverage lid in Canada and the US that uses 15% less plastic than the former lid and straw combination, and in 2021, for frozen beverages that still require the use of a straw, paper straws replaced plastic straws across Canada. Together, these changes help avoid an estimated 420 million plastic straws annually.
      2. Tim Hortons also launched wooden stir sticks in Canada and the US, which avoided 75 million plastic stir sticks annually.
      3. For sandwiches and bagels, fully recyclable paper-based wrappers introduced in 2021 helped to eliminate more than 460 tonnes of plastics annually compared to previous packaging.
      4. In 2023, Tim Hortons restaurants across Canada will be introducing compostable wooden and fibre cutlery for guests, eliminating an estimated use of 90 million single-use plastics a year.
      5. Plastic lids on Loaded Bowls are also being replaced with fibre lids.
      6. In addition, the brand developed a plastic-free fibre lid for hot beverages which was trialed for 12 weeks in Vancouver in 2022.

      4Standard requires that no CFC blowing agents should be added during the manufacturing of the polystyrene packaging.

    3. In 2021, Burger King US also began piloting strawless cold beverage lids as well as paper straws in 51 restaurants in Miami. Continued testing took place in New Jersey from January to May 2022.
    4. Internationally, 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. As of October 2022., Burger King UK removed plastic lids from soft drinks in restaurants nationwide as part of an effort to reduce single-use plastic. The removal of lids for dine-in customers is estimated to remove 17 million plastic lids from circulation and save over 30,000kg of plastic each year.
    5. 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.
  3. Another key objective for our plastic packaging is to increase recycled content.
    1. For a limited time during 2022, a hot beverage lid made of 25% post-consumer recycled material was made available at select Tim Hortons restaurants in Saskatchewan.

Ensuring Safe, Quality Materials

  1. 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.
  2. In the United States, this means ensuring our product and packaging specifications are compliant with FDA standards, and applicable state and local laws. In Canada, this means our product and packaging specifications are compliant with Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency standards, as well as local laws. Outside North America, our products are compliant with local regulation.
  3. 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.
  4. As a next step in our product stewardship journey, the Burger King, Tim Hortons, Popeyes and Firehouse Subs brands have required that any added5 perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) be phased out from all approved, guest-facing packaging materials6 globally by the end of 2025 or sooner. As of November 2022, we estimate that less than 8%7 of guest packaging items globally still contained added PFAS. For these items, we continue our work to transition to alternative materials that achieve the same functional characteristics without the need for added PFAS.

5When 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.

6For purposes of this requirement, ‘Guest-facing packaging’ is defined as any item which arrives to a BURGER KING®, TIM HORTONS®, POPEYES® or FIREHOUSE SUBS® restaurant with no contents, for the sole purpose of packaging a BURGER KING®, TIM HORTONS®, POPEYES® or FIREHOUSE SUBS® 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.

7Based on 2021 volumes and estimates as of November 2022.

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.

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, in 2022 Tim Hortons changed the colour of their standard hot beverage lids from brown to white across Canada. By changing the colour of the lids from brown to white, we aim 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. Firehouse Subs is assessing feasibility to determine the date for which they will also be compliant with this goal 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 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.

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