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McDonald’s: Environmental McNasty?

by Archives April 11, 2007

As the world’s largest franchised corporation, with over 31,000 restaurants in 120 countries employing 1.5 million people, McDonald’s is also one of the greatest consumer contributors to the trash epidemic facing our world today. As a corporation that boasts of its environmental responsibility, the question is: are they doing all they can?

First, a few little-known facts:

A typical McDonald’s restaurant serves an average of 109 customers each peak hour, with every customer producing an average of 56.7 grams of trash. Consequently, an estimated 6.35 kilograms of trash is generated from food sales alone each (peak) hour, so across the world, at least 196,821 kg of trash are being generated every hour!

In 2006, McDonald’s corporation’s revenues totaled $21.5 billion USD, almost four times that of their competitive counterparts. To figure out what kind of trash is produced by a quarter trillon dollars, let’s calculate it by dividing the total by the price of a combo meal. On average, the nations with the greatest number of McDonald’s restaurants (China, UK, France, U.S., Canada, etc.) charge about $4.50 (CDN or US?) – including the rate of conversion.

This equals approximately 4.8 billion combo meals sold in 2006. Each of these meals includes at least seven articles of trash (sandwich wrap, cup, lid, straw, fries container, tray paper/paper bag), which, when multiplied by the number of sales, totals about 28.8 billion articles of trash each year – packaging that is generally disposed of after less than five minutes of use!

Paper products (such as fry containers, trayliners, cups and sandwich wraps) lead to deforestation and habitat destruction. Natural forests are cleared to make way for monoculture plantation. Chlorine, used to bleach paper, is continually dumped into lakes and rivers – drinking water to a multitude of people of indigenous villages – killing aquatic life and eventually seeping back into the soil that patrons of these poor countries use to grow food for their families.

With recent upheaval of environmental concerns and activism, McDonalds has been working feverishly to find improvements to policies in attempts to push back the political heat. The greatest of changes starting in 1986, with the exposure of their environmental and moral indiscretions by Greenpeace activists Helen Steel and David Morris, leading to an embarrassingly long seven-year trial nicknamed the ‘McLibel trial’.

Since then, McDonald’s has made a slew of promising changes to lessen their pollutive ways. They increased the size of their currently transported fry cartons (from 16.3 kg to 17.7 kg per case) as well as eliminated shipping packaging for the syrup they use for soft drinks, saving 31 million kg of cardboard annually.

They have set a target to reduce their waste by 50 per cent (by when?) and vow to work only in partnership with suppliers who advocate sound environmental practice, namely the Environmental Defense. The Environmental Defense, founded in 1967, is a national non-profit organization that combines the dynamics of science, economics and law to create viable, sustainable solutions to large and small scale environmental problems. In recent time, they also phased out the use of polystyrene products.

Although polystyrene recycling is possible, due to economic insustainability, the majority of polystyrene food service packaging is actually not recycled. Generally, there just aren’t enough facilities to accommodate the demand and the few that are available are situated in remote areas where fossil fuel burning from automobiles and transport vehicles would do almost the same amount of environmental damage. As a result, most packaging winds up in the trash and landfills.

Leung is advacating the following changes for McDonald’s restaurants

1) Eliminating double-cupping coffee cups – using cup sleeves instead

2) Using compostable birch wood coffee stirrers instead of current plastic stirrers

3) Reducing the price for coffee purchasers who use personal travel mugs

4) Using refillable pepper and salt shakers instead of disposable packets

5) Instead of non-recycleable sandwich wraps, finding an organic, biodegradable alternative.

6) A recycling program for the plastic items currently used, including plastic forks, knives, sundae containers, salad containers.

“Truth is corporations, regardless of size and power, need the support of their customers and shareholders to stay in business; so of course the concerns held by these individuals will always be considered important. Therefore, in voicing worries and opinions, issues often overlooked, such as the need for a greater sense of Corporate Social Responsibility will indeed be re-discussed and decided upon. Modifications in the past have only really been made as a response to constant public scrutiny and criticism from larger political and activist groups alike. So without enough pressure from the consumer for more of these environmentally friendly policy alterations, they may never feel the need to change.”

Show your support for the environment and visit the website below for more details!

www.petitiononline.com/MickeyDs or visit http://changemcdonalds.blogspot.com for more information.

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