Yum China, operator of KFC and Pizza Hut, vows to cut harmful plastic packaging by almost a third

Eric Ng
·3-min read

Yum China Holdings, one of China’s largest restaurant operators, is aiming to cut its use of environmentally harmful plastics by almost a third in the next five years by shifting to paper straws and biodegradable packaging.

It intends to phase out non-degradable plastic bags and cutlery at all its KFC restaurants in mainland China by the end of 2025, and eliminate non-degradable bags from its Pizza Hut chain by the end of 2022.

The overall aim is to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in non-degradable plastic packaging by weight via a series of initiatives that will help China, the biggest producer of plastic waste on the planet, to become a more sustainable society.

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“As a result of these initiatives, Yum China expects a reduction of approximately 8,000 tons in non-degradable plastics annually starting from 2021,” said the New York- and Hong Kong-listed company.

This will be achieved by replacing existing plastic packaging with paper straws, paper bags, and biodegradable plastic bags.

This is a big undertaking, considering the Shanghai-based firm has already cut its use of paper by about 8,000 tons and plastic packaging by 1,000 tons, according to its latest sustainability report.

Starting from this month, all KFC restaurants in mainland China will stop using plastic straws, and over 90 per cent of them will replace disposable plastic cutlery with wooden cutlery for dine-in and takeaway.

In addition, non-degradable plastic bags used for delivery and takeaway in over half of its KFC restaurants will be replaced with paper bags or biodegradable plastic bags.

“The new plastic reduction initiatives reinforce our sustainability strategy to drive meaningful change through packaging innovation and reduction,” said Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China.

The strategy includes ensuring that all customer-facing, plastic-based packaging is recyclable, and refusing to buy paper products from suppliers that knowingly cause deforestation.

Yum China said its initiatives are in line with the latest regulations laid down by the Chinese government.

A ban took effect at the end of 2020 on the production and sale of disposable foamed plastic tableware, straws and plastic cotton buds. A five-year phasing out of non-biodegradable plastic bags also took effect.

With the national plastic ban, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has piloted a “zero-waste city” project in “11+5” cities and regions.

Of the 63 million tons of plastic waste China produced in 2019, 30 per cent was recycled, 32 per cent went into landfills, 31 per cent was burnt and 7 per cent was abandoned, according to the China National Resources Recycling Association.

A year before that, the country which used to import half of the world’s recyclable plastic refuse banned the practice, forcing waste exporters like Japan and the United States to find new ways to deal with their rubbish.

Beijing issued a circular a year ago on its five-year plastic reduction initiative, saying that it would provide policies to support the development of sustainable replacement products. Details on implementation have been scant.

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