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McGill student takes on McTrash

by Archives April 11, 2007

What started as a project for management class, coupled with some late night visits to the local McDonald’s, has become a mission in its own right for Geraldine Leung: to compel the fastfood giant to rethink its trash-disposal practices and start using more biodegradeable materials.

Noting the types of material used at McDonald’s for food packaging (and seeing them thrown out minutes later), she was inspired to mount a campaign.

“The sandwich wraps, the paper boxes, all the materials they use for packaging just sits on the food for a minute, but it takes years for them to be biodegradeable. They have a long environmental impact…It made me very angry, it’s such a waste,” said the third-year McGill student.

Leung is majoring in animal biology, but it was her “social contacts in business” class that led her to take a closer look at her surroundings with an eye to push for change in her community. Three months since, she has gathered roughly 500 signatures for her campaign against practices applied all around the globe by Macdonald’s.

“Considering the enormous number of locations, even local changes at the nearby restaurants can make a world of difference,” wrote Leung in her blog, which contains all her findings and research for her three-month-old campaign.

She believes that consumers aren’t helpless when they are faced with dubious corporate practices: “the big corporations rely on customers’ money to survive, so we actually have alot of say,” she said.

She proposed a list of changes in the materials provided by McDonald’s in its foodservice, which are as minutely-detailed as replacing plastic stir sticks with ones made of birchwood – the latter being a compostable material. Her proposals are six in all. (See sidebar)

Even though this is her first time campaigning for an environmental issue, Leung said that she had received many positive responses, particularly from environmental groups. However, she wasn’t only looking for those who already have the same direction. She also promoted her petition at Dawson College, on the McGill campus, as well as to customers outside MacDonald’s restaurants.

Response from the corporate franchise hasn’t been as forthcoming, according to Leung. The representative she spoke to cited that information regarding environmental policies could not be disclosed because of “competitive reasons.” Her visits to the official website did not reveal anything concrete, besides PR statements such as: “McDonald’s is recognized as an environmental leader for our commitment and our actions – to protect the environment for future generations.”

Given enough time (especially when her school work is out of the way) and gauging from the level of support so far, Leung believes that she can attain 10,000 signatures for her petition within a year.

Though she was stonewalled by the reps she spoke to, she only felt more motivated to push on with her petition.

“It makes me want to work harder to get exposure for my project, [and find] more people to back me up.”

For more information on Leung’s campaign, visit http://changemcdonalds.blogspot.com

Geraldine Leung advocates the following changes for McDonald’s:

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

2) Compostable birch wood coffee stirrers instead of plastic stirrers

3) Reducing the price for coffee drinkers who use travel mugs

4) Refillable pepper and salt shakers instead of disposable packets

5) Finding an organic, biodegradable alternative for non-recycleable sandwich wraps

6) A recycling program for the plastic items such as forks, knives, sundae containers, salad containers.

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