Fast food, fast litter

An interesting survey has recently been published by Keep Britain Tidy highlighting the main fast food brands to be found littered in England. No prizes for guessing who topped the list. Yes – it was McDonalds (29%), followed some way behind by unbranded fast food packaging – (21% – e.g. fish and chip, burger and kebab shops) and then Greggs the bakers (18%) and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) 8%. There was much debate in the press and also on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2.

What I found really fascinating about all the resultant discussion is that it wasn’t the usual McDonalds-bashing. For the first time that I can remember, comments were being made along the lines of “it isn’t McDonalds who actually drop this stuff on the ground – it’s their customers” – real, individual people.

That doesn’t mean that we can let McDonalds totally off the hook. We might reasonably expect McDonalds to ensure there are litter bins easily accessible for their customers and, of course, that their packaging is minimal and, where possible, biodegradable (i.e. not polystyrene – the indestructible, immortal bane of litter-pickers’ lives). But it does seem that McDonalds do at least try – what other fast food retailers have you heard of who, for many of their outlets, undertake to clear all the litter (and not just the litter coming from their store) from 100 metres either side of their stores on a daily basis ? Incidentally, I hope that loads of you will now contact me with details of many other fast food operators who do, in fact, clear up around their outlets.

I was talking with Tegryn Jones, who heads up Keep Wales Tidy, the other day. He made the point that you often find McDonalds litter 10 miles or more from a McDonalds store – a fact that I can certainly corroborate. How on earth can you blame that on McDonalds ? Perhaps a question to consider is : “What responsibility should we place on retailers if their products regularly end up as litter ?”

As if fast food litter isn’t bad enough already, we now hear that the tough economic climate is leading to people downgrading their eating-out habits and so purchasing more fast food, rather than usually pricier slow food. This suggests that the fast food litter problem could be about to get much worse.

So I think that it’s time that we started to refocus our attention and our angst on the people who are actually dropping their rubbish and who are, in a simple voluntary action, converting it into litter. We must, by all means, work with the fast food suppliers to ensure that their packaging is appropriate and minimal, that they do all that they can to remind their customers to dispose of their packaging correctly and, where possible, to contribute a bit of civic pride by cleaning up around their stores. But let’s not hold fast food suppliers totally accountable for the complete folly of their customers’ littering.

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