In the race to collect high fives for doing away with straws or nixing artificial preservatives, one fast-food chain has flown a little under the radar for its positive efforts: KFC. The fried-chicken chain, America’s 13th-largest fast-food company, has received accolades recently not just for eliminating antibiotics from its entire chicken supply chain, but for promising to phase out non-reusable plastic packages.
Let’s start with the antibiotics portion of this: KFC pledged in 2017 to cut “medically important” antibiotics from its chicken. And this month, it announced that it had done so, earning a hat tip from the National Resources Defense Council. The NRDC notes that antibiotic use in food is a growing health concern, as 2 million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year. To combat this, the organization has called on fast-food companies not to use beef and chicken treated with medically important antibiotics. (McDonald’s announced its own antibiotic-free burger plans last year.) NRDC acknowledges the huge role a company like KFC plays in changing how farmers raise their animals—just imagine how many chickens KFC buys each year.
Onto the sustainability front: KFC pledged today to revamp its food packaging so that all plastic items consumers encounter will be “reusable or recoverable.” It set a target of 2025 to implement the changes, which will involve finding sustainable alternatives to straws, plastic bags, cutlery and lids, and setting plastic recycling goals for its restaurants. Already, some of KFC’s overseas locations in Romania, France, and India have done away with packaging like plastic straws, lids, and bags. KFC’s parent company, Yum Brands, has also said it will make sure all of its fiber packaging comes from recycled materials by 2020.
This is not to say that we expect fast food companies to save us all. (If that’s the case, float me off on my melting iceberg right now.) But their massive buying power has the potential to shift the way suppliers make their products, whether that’s takeout-container manufacturers or chicken farmers. KFC’s two steps in the right direction are just that: steps.