You’re on your way to work; it’s a Tuesday morning. You stop at a local fast food restaurant for a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. When you’re done, where do you put the wrapper and cup your meal came in? It goes in the trash bin at the restaurant (hopefully). If you purchase only one sandwich and one cup of coffee per week for one year that’s nearly 20 pounds of extra paper waste generated by you alone. Multiply that by everyone that purchases fast food every day of every year and you’re talking about TONS of waste generated simply because of convenience. Had you made that meal at home, you wouldn’t have required the container or wrapper for the sandwich nor would you need the paper cup (or plastic) for your coffee. You could have used a re-usable cup instead. Numerous studies have shown that all that extra waste ends up either in the landfill or worse, along our roadways with fast food waste being the primary contributor to urban litter in the US.
I’m sure you’ve seen the types of materials fast food restaurants use – paper wrappers, cardboard containers and plastic cups, paper napkins, etc. The vast majority of these materials are easily recyclable in almost every community in the country. Yet, the sad fact of the matter is that less than 35% of fast food waste is diverted from the landfill to recycling centers. It would be one thing if all of that extra waste generated by our need for convenience was recycled, but it’s not; it’s finding its way into our landfills instead, causing them to fill up more quickly and and accelerating our need to find alternative waste management methods.
First and foremost, avoid eating fast food when possible. Avoiding fast food entirely may not be practical or desired, so if you do eat at a fast food establishment, take your trash to go and recycle using the methods likely already provided by your local city at home. When I take my food to go I always recycle the paper and plastic in my recycle bins at home. This way I know the waste is going to the recycling center and not the local landfill.
Second, encourage your state and local governments to place recycling requirements on fast food restaurants. Many state and local governments have already passed laws forbidding the use of polystyrene (styrofoam) in fast food containers. I’m sure you remember the drink and sandwich containers of a decade ago. Have you also noticed that those styrofoam containers have disappeared? This is because of action by individuals just like you that encouraged restaurants to move to more environmentally-friendly practices. The same can be done with restaurants and their current recycling efforts (or lack thereof). You can make a difference with a simple phone call or letter!