Paper or Plastic? KFC Introduces Reusable Plastic Packaging

Once upon a time, before decent grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s existed, families back in the 1970s and 1980s would climb into their wood paneled station wagons for a picnic or day at the beach, and would stop by a Kentucky Friend Chicken for a bucket of chicken.  No one will admit it now, but way back when, tofu was known as “bean curd” at Asian restaurants and kale was what restaurants used to decorate the salad bar.  Now thanks to gourmet hot food bars and semi-prepared food products, some would say our tastes have shifted a tad.  But what is now KFC still has legs, and is a vital part of the US$11 billion Yum! Brands empire.

KFC has been the target of many activists, or is avoided by others all together, based on its animal rights record, bad PR from hygiene and workers’ rights issues, and its effect on the environment, from waste at processing plants to alleged destruction of Amazonian rainforest, where soy for chicken feed is grown.  Now the company that has introduced generations to oddly-shaped chicken parts will show that is takes sustainability seriously.  Don’t count on organic chicken appearing on the menu anytime soon, but KFC has introduced more sustainable and reusable content.

By 2011, KFC claims that the company will reduce the use of foam by over 60% and total plastic use by 17%.  Part of the push will be an introduction of reusable packaging.  Currently 60% of its restaurants serve some of its sides in colorful plastic containers—all restaurants will feature them by next year.  The company hopes that customers will reuse, and then recycle the containers.  KFC touts other benefits as well, such as reduced shipping cubes, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and less energy required to manufacture these spry containers.  The finger licking good paper and cardboard based packaging materials will include more recycled and postconsumer content, too.

Clearly customers and critics will have some questions.  First, about those who fit the profile of fast food customers: will they bother to take the reusable containers back to the office or home with them?  And if they do, the concern over BPA in plastic (which is why our household is phasing out plastic while refusing to reheat anything in that material), true or overblown, will lead others to question whether this is replacing one type of trash with another.  So will KFC encourage stores to recycle?

Then there is that iconic, all-American bucket.  The lid has 30% of recycled material.  But what about the bucket?

Some of the paper material is also Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified, which will draw the ire of some sustainability experts.  The SFI has come under fire for its ties to the timber industry, and both the FTC and IRS have complained about the organization’s claim to be a “charity” or lack of transparency in its forest certification process.  While the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is input from stakeholders of various backgrounds, the SFI is still timber-industry sponsored.

Based on KFC’s and the SFI’s response and pushback to similar issues in the past, the chances of discovering that eleven herbs and spices formula will occur before KFC satisfies its critics anytime soon.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

3 responses

  1. You mentioned the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in your October 4th article “Paper or Plastic? KFC Introduces Reusable Plastic Packaging and I wanted to clarify a few things about the organization. SFI is fully independent, and its rigorous standard is grounded in science, research and regional expertise to promote responsible forest management. Forestry experts like the National Association of State Foresters, conservation groups, and government officials from the United States and Canada support the SFI standard as a credible forestry certification standard in North America.
    The “complaints” you referred to are complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, not complaints by them. The first link you cite makes this perfectly clear. The complaints came from supporters of the Forest Stewardship Council who do not want competition and who do not see the value that multiple credible forest certification programs can bring to our forests.
    In fact, SFI is registered with the United States Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization. SFI has a 3-chamber volunteer Board of Directors that represents environmental, social and economic interests equally. Board members include representatives of environmental, conservation, professional and academic groups, independent professional loggers, small family forest owners, public officials, labor and the forest products industry. In order to ensure that no sector can control the future of the corporation, board actions must be approved by a minimum of 80 percent of those present.
    The cornerstone of the SFI program is transparent, independent third-party certification, which verifies the requirements set out in the standard and supporting documents have been met. Independent certification bodies evaluate planning, procedures and processes in the forest, in the mill or in the plant to ensure they conform to SFI requirements – whether it is for forest management, chain of custody or fiber procurement. Certification bodies are also required to prepare audit summary reports for all certifications which are posted to the SFI Inc. website ( for public viewing.
    Certification bodies must complete an accreditation program by independent accreditation bodies (e.g. American National Standards Institute, Standards Council of Canada and ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board) before they are approved to perform certification audits to the SFI Standard.
    With just 10 percent of the world’s forests certified, a diverse group of individuals and organizations need to come together to promote responsible forestry. With collaboration, respect and rigor, the world’s forests can be sustainably managed. Forest certification is not a contest; it’s a challenge for all of us to work together to increase certified forests worldwide.

    Rick Cantrell
    Chief Operating Officer
    Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc.

  2. Since Dogwood Alliance launched their Kentucky Fried Forests campaign KFC has clearly been feeling the pressure! While it is a good step that are reducing their plastics and styrofoam, they have a long way to go in regards to paper packaging. SFI isn’t the answer. Dogwood’s research into the supply chain for the company identified multiple links between endangered forest logging in the mid-Atlantic coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and likely links to logging in Indonesia, which Greenpeace and WWF have also found in their research. Many of these operations are rubber-stamped under the SFI certification scheme. As long as forests are being destroyed for buckets and cups, KFC’s packing is not environmentally friendly.

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