Filed under: J500 Week 7 | Tags: deforestation, fast food, McDonalds, michael pollan, packaging, recycling, waste
My favorite childhood restaurant, like so many other people, was McDonald’s. I was a chicken Mcnugget Happy Meal with a Dr. Pepper kind of girl. It came in a cardboard box with fun drawings and games and, of course, you can’t forget the awesome varieties of gender-specific toys that came with it.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan remembers the same excitement I got as a child from unwrapping McDonald’s items, as if they were “little presents.” Even though McDonald’s fell out of favor with me, new Ronald McDonald enthusiasts are born every day, explaining its sales of over $5.97 billion, exceeding the $5.94 billion expected revenue. It’s easy to forget that as fast- food chains continue to grow, the need for wrapping up those “little presents” grows as well.
According to No Free Refills‘ (NFR) 2008 Fast Food Packaging and Production report, the Southern forests in the U.S. are the world’s largest paper-producing region, and the place most fast-food companies get their brand-specific packaging. The report claims 43 million acres of forests have been converted to pine plantations. The U.S. Forest Service states that now, nearly one in five acres of Southern forest are devoted to pine plantation.
Fast-food packaging isn’t only affecting Southern woodlands, though.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that in 2008, 32 percent of all waste came from packaging and containers, the highest contributor of waste accounting for 77 million tons. According to the NFR report, the average American eats fast-food more than 150 times a year and 1.8 million tons of total packaging waste is from fast-food.
To be fair, even NFR verifies that 83 percent of McDonald’s food and beverage packaging is made from some form of recycled paper or wood-fiber material. McDonald’s also reduced its waste by 1,100 tons from 2004 levels simply by making minor adjustments to french fry boxes in 2005. While I don’t mean to belittle such efforts, it seems as if McDonald’s overlooked perhaps the simplest recycling tool used in almost every school, office building and park-recycling bins.
According to a 2009 study conducted in part by Rutgers and Indiana University, the presence of a specialized recycling container reduced waste by 35 percent. So when children find items wrapped in McDonald’s packaging six times more appetizing than identical snacks in plain wrapping, as this 2007 Stanford University study found, it’s obvious what kind of recycling power McDonald’s could have.
Without recycling bins, one of the most recognizable signs of environmental responsbility, McDonald’s mission to be greener than the rest is very much underminded. While McDonald’s has implemented incredibly successful recycling bin programs in Japan, Canada, and Europe, such initiatives are severely lacking in the U.S. I know I’ve never seen a recycling bin in a Lawrence McDonald’s, at least.
The beauty of locally franchised McDonald’s though, is that customers have a lot of input. If local McDonald’s eaters decide they’d rather recycle than throw their paper bag, wax-lined cup, napkins, hamburger wrapper, french fry container and ketchup packets at the end of a meal, let the owners know. We may just find that all our fast-food friends need is a little nudge.
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