If you’re anything like me, cleaning out your car can be kind of fun. Amidst the layers of detritus that only get sifted through once or twice a year, there’s any number of long lost treasures to be found: CDs, jewelry trinkets, coins of domestic and foreign value, etc. But inevitably, the trash pile always trumps the treasure pile. And if you’re still like me, most of it consists of old food wrappings.
This isn’t too surprising, considering that food packaging and containers make up over 30 percent of all waste in U.S. landfills. In the land of instant gratification and a zillion drive-thrus, we’re not encouraged to
take the time to consider how much debris we accumulate with every food product we buy.
Nevertheless, the numbers make sense if you tack on a combo meal (at minimum) for every individual of the “1 billion served” listed on a given McDonald’s billboard. The end result? A sumo-wrestler’s weight in food packaging per American consumer a year.
Needless to say, the environmental and ecological consequences this creates are detrimental, to say the least, and Southern forests take a nasty hit.
With clear cutting already a problem, the fast food packaging industry merely exacerbates this, and toxic chemicals associated with the clear cutting wipes out the diverse biosphere within the forests. A quarter of the paper products used in packaging comes straight from the devastation. Most people don’t consider the toll forest decimation takes on other environmental aspects, like the air we breathe, the water we drink, what we eat, etc. It directly affects whole communities.
That being said, getting on board with movements to stop the corporate perpetrators like and Georgia Pacific is as beneficial to our communities as it is to a single person. Who wants to be exposed to extra carcinogens? Collective and individual protest like signing letters or blasting the corporations responsible certainly help, but there is more you can do up front. Simple day-to-day actions like “precycling”—eschewing paper bags in lieu of tote bags, re-using coffee cups or using a thermos, preparing meals at home—can make a significant difference over time. And if you have to get your fix, keep abreast of which companies are modifying their business practices, such as using post-consumer recycled paper (McDonalds is reducing the amount of packaging they use, and increasing the amount of Post-consumer recycled content). Of course, taking it a step further and checking out ways to let the “Big 11” fast food companies—including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell chief among them– your dissatisfaction doesn’t take too long either, and has the potential to put enough pressure on them to save a valuable ecosystem.
The fight will inevitably take time and a great deal of persistence, but every small effort on the part of a lot of people can expedite the process. Our relationship with Southern forests is a mutually beneficial one, and the concern at hand is as much for us as it is for the trees. We can’t escape food packaging as a whole, but selectivity can and should be exercised when possible.