Grace Gray (‘19)
Phillips Exeter Academy
You all have probably seen them: the golden arches towering over the street of almost every highway exit stop in America, the signature symbol of the restaurant that has grown to dominate America’s fast-food industry since the 1950s: McDonald’s. However, life under these arches isn’t as golden as one would expect; McDonald’s has propelled America’s obesity epidemic by serving unhealthy yet addictive and affordable foods, while substantially damaging the environment to fuel their rapid expansion—from deforesting the Amazon rainforest in the 1980s to farm more cattle, to producing 90,000 tons of food- and packaging-waste annually and pouring excessive resources into producing 8,500 hamburgers every minute (1).
McDonald’s has recently acknowledged their consequences on the environment and has even launched efforts at weaving sustainability into their restaurants. The franchise publicized their strides towards sustainability by sponsoring the World Wildlife Fund’s first conference on Sustainable Beef in November of 2010, and they have since reduced their packaging in the hopes of minimizing waste. Some midwest locations have even shifted towards greening their restaurant and sourcing their energy from roof-top solar panels.
However, change comes slowly to a corporation so sprawling and deeply intertwined with American society as McDonald’s. Although producing less waste with improved packaging, much of their drink cups and food packaging can’t be recycled into a new product due to its contamination of food waste. In fact, at the Richmond-based McDonald’s where I’ve worked for the past year, even our recyclable (“clean”) cardboard is tossed in the trash due to a lack of incentive regarding recycling—it’s simply easier for us workers to throw our waste into one of our several trash cans instead of carrying the recycling to the bin outside the store. While scrambling to serve the almost non-stop rush of McDonald’s customers, environmental practices are quickly forgotten; however, almost 80% of McDonald’s are independently owned and have significant agency regarding their policies and practices. It is up to us, the people of America, to push locally and globally until environmentalism is seamlessly woven into our expansive fast-food industry. This may create a fast-food industry significantly different than what we have today, but it will benefit both our Earth and our people. McDonald’s has profited from hurting both the environment and its customers, as its affordability makes it the most appealing option—and sometimes the only option—for most consumers. It is our responsibility to influence our government and shift our society towards creating restaurants nourishing for both the Earth and customers—because why should we support fast-food when life under the golden arches is just hurting our home and ourselves?
(1) “McDonald's and the Environment.” Google Sites, Ohio Wesleyan University, sites.google.com/a/owu.edu/mcdonald-s-and-the-environment/home/negative-effects-of-mcdonald-s-on-the-environment.
(2) Donella Meadows. “Bad and Good Environmental Marks for McDonald’s.” The Donella Meadows Project, http://donellameadows.org/archives/bad-and-good-environmental-marks-for-mcdonalds/.
(2) “McDonald’s Environmental Issues.” UK Essays, https://www.ukessays.com/essays/environmental-studies/mcdonalds-environmental-issues.php.
(4) Roddy Scheer, Doug Moss. “Assessing McDonald’s Performance on Sustainability.” Business Ethics, http://business-ethics.com/2013/02/08/10630-assessinng-mcdonalds-performance-on-sustainability/.
(5) Matthew Yglesias. “America's Food Factories.” Slate,
(6) “The future of food and agriculture – Trends and challenges.” FAO, 2007, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6583e.pdf