Sad Ending to an Otherwise Happy Meal

On a cold bright Sunday morning, I took my children to McDonald's to treat them to a happy meal. As we went to the condiment table to pick up the requisite ketchup, now in bulk dispensers (good!), I noticed the "one napkin, one meal" sign atop the napkin dispenser. As I took our three-napkin quota, I noticed that our paper friends were not bleached white but beige, more environmentally friendly. I was intrigued at this point, and while my children were playing with their cute little Vancouver Olympic toys, which were wrapped in number 4 plastic, a plastic recycled in our municipality, I had a look at all the packaging.

The happy meal box was made from 100% recycled paper, a minimum of which is 50% post-consumer content.In addition, there are games on the box, which extend its useful life. The kids' drinks were in waxed paper cups, which can be composted at some facilities. Ditto for the fries and cheese sandwich wrappers.

I didn't go for the low-cal salad option, as I probably should have. I had the 560-calorie quarter pounder (yes, beef...sinful) with the 360-calorie fries. But to hell with the calorie counting, I was more interested in whether our meals would wreak havoc on the environment, not me hips.

The cardboard carton for my quarter pounder was made of 50% recycled paper, 35% of which was post-consumer fibre. Very good. However, my cardboard fry box had no such indication, which leads me to believe that it's a single use container.

Now, I know that you're expecting me to be critical of McDonald's Canada for its packaging practices. But in fact, I was thrilled when they got rid of their polystyrene shells. I realize that it's so last millennium, but we don't go often. Today, quite surprisingly, apart from the polystyrene lids (number 6 plastic), the plastics used at the golden arches can be recycled in our municipality. Bravo! And I applaud the "one napkin, one meal" program. What's more, I surfed the McDonald's Canada site and discovered that the company had abolished its domed plastic lid and spoon for its shakes. Behind the counter, the company has also reduced the weight of its corrugated boxes and increased the size of its shipping containers to minimize the amount of packaging materials. In terms of packaging, McDonald's Canada appears to have given the environment some due consideration.

Now, this is all wonderful, but at the conclusion of our meal, we noticed that there were no recycling bins. I asked the supervisor. No, I was not blind. There were no recycling bins. Now reader, you tell me: What is the point of using recyclable materials, if they're going to a landfill site? Am I wrong to think that this is a half-baked solution?

What's more, what kind of message does this send to the happy meal customers? Our children recycle at home and at their friends'. They recycle at daycare and school. They see the owners at the Boite Gourmande, our neighbourhood café, openly practise the three Rs in addition to composting. But then, at the neighbourhood McDonald's, the remnants of an otherwise happy meal are thrown in one big trash can!

Like most children, my kids love Ronald McDonald, and it's time that this clown realized that as a purveyor of small collectible toys and fries, he is also a role model for our children and should be modeling responsible consumer behaviour.

Now, I told my husband this info this morning. He realizes that I'm NOT a few fries short of a happy meal, I just need a plausible answer. So today, I contacted both the McDonald's Media and Non-Media Relations. A very polite Josée promised to make some inquiries at head office and then would get back to me. In turn, I promise to pass on the message to you....I'm waiting.

Related posts:
Mom Activism: Raising Retail Awareness about Eco-Friendly Packaging
Plastics: of the 3Rs Your Best Bet is to REDUCE
Part 1: Tipping Point of Tim Hortons Paper Cup
Part 2: Tipping Point of Tim Hortons Paper Cup
Part 3: Coming to Grips With Change
Part 4: Success is Not All Roses
Tim Hortons: Some Freshly Baked Environmental Solutions


Anonymous | February 6, 2010 at 7:29 AM

I remember your 'paper cup' entry. Many of our small eateries have converted to throw away cups & plates, but those stiro foam stuff. Latest meal in town, I will blog about now..

Heather | February 6, 2010 at 10:49 AM

Styrofoam is an ugly one! I think that the number of facilities that recycle styrofoam (number 6 plastic) in Canada is still in the single digits. It also never biodegrades. Paper products do biodegrade, but also depletes our forests. It's still the lesser of the two evils, but why can't they compost them?

I'll be by to read your post, Ida. Thanks for stopping in. H

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