by: Leslie Jones


In our fast-paced lifestyle, it is not unheard of for families to hit a fast food restaurant or the drive-through at least once a week...maybe more. Ball games, practices, meetings, going here, going there.  It has become the norm.  We seem to not even notice it anymore, until the statistics really hit home. “At least one quarter of American adults eat fast food everyday”*


This translates into hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste material, most of which could be recycled if it were disposed of properly....or if we were given the opportunity to dispose of it properly.


“In 1991, McDonald’s hoped its golden arches would soon symbolize the new-age approach of corporate responsibility in regards to food and packaging reuse and recycling.


Ronald and crew teamed up with the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund to unleash an expansive program titled “McDonald’s Corporation – Environmental Defense Waste Reduction Task Force” aimed at finding eco-friendly ways to dispose of the unfathomable amount of packaging required in daily operations to feed the masses. Which, by the way, is in the “billions and billions.”


The main focus of the task force was to reduce and/or reuse as much material as possible required to package, store and transport the countless number of buns, burger, fries, napkins, etc. within the U.S.


An emphasis was put on reducing waste by swapping disposable packaging with reusable containers, particularly in regards to bulk storage...This approach was implemented for condiment packets, cleaning supplies, durable shipping pallets used at distribution centers and reusable coffee filters. This philosophy also gave rise to the handy-dandy pump dispenser for dispensing condiments. Other in-store changes included reusable coffee cups, “and reusable lids for salads and breakfast entrées.”


The second major waste reducer was figuring out what types of materials could be recycled. At that time, it was determined that by weight, 34% of all solid waste was corrugated cardboard. Easy fix there — recycle it rather than throw it out.


McDonald’s also used its business heft to convince its suppliers to ship as much material as possible in recyclable cardboard as well as buying napkins and take-out sacks that have a “high level” of recycled content. In 1991, those levels were only 5 to 30%. Additional efforts included “homogenizing” the types of plastics used for utensils, packaging of supplies (like buns) and jugs for liquids.


Yet, while the efforts listed above were surely innovative at the time, shouldn’t McDonald’s be boasting a zero-landfill operation by now? Searching their corporate website, signs are promising that they’re approaching a zero-waste threshold along with other promising accolades.


Statements such as, “Currently, 82% of McDonald’s consumer packaging is made from renewable materials, and we’re aiming for higher percentages in the future” are surely indicative of moving in the right direction.”**