Day 217: Fast Food Meltdown

wendysI like to think of our Clean Bin Project as a competitive support group.  Each of the three of us has our bins and are personally vying for the “least landfill trash generated in a year” title, but we also support each other and make sure we’re on track and making good waste decisions.

That’s why personal vacations are dangerous.  You’re support group is not there when you need them.  Temptation is everywhere.  Especially, as it turns out, along the highways of Idaho and Washington where fast food joints jostle for advertising space and strip malls dominate the landscape.

Grant went away for a week “with the boys” in the United States and came back with unmistakable evidence of a fast food binge.

To be honest, he also brought home a huge container of compost (is it ok to bring that stuff accross the border?) and sorted paper waste as well.

I’m not trying to expose him, for garbage crimes, I’m just leveraging the example to bring up the topic of fast food waste.

A recent study of Vancouver city garbage bins “determined that
fast food waste (food and packaging) makes up about 57 percent (by weight) of materials in public litter cans.” 57%!

Lets imagine that only 50% of that is packaging waste.  That is still 27.5% of the city street garbage consisting of packaging that had a useful lifespan of probably about 5 minutes and was probably unnecessary in the first place.

It doesn’t make sense to buy something that is going to be wrapped, passed to you, unwrapped, and eaten in the space of about 10 minutes.  Why wrap it at all?

And what about the ridiculous scene of people eating “take out” while sitting in the actual restaurant?  They needed their burger wrapped in foil, surrounded by 3 napkins, accompanied by individual ketchups, all sitting on a paper sheet protecting their food tray just so they could walk 5 steps to the nearest table?

And yes, a lot of the paper wrappers and such are technically recyclable, but the truth is that they get soiled by grease and never make it anywhere near a composting facility.

Ok, you’re right, it’s not that easy.  It’s one thing to ask for a muffin without a bag or a slice of pizza without a plate and quite another to get fries that way.  That’s why, at the beginning of the project, we elected not to forgo fast food altogether, but to carry reusable containers.

If we forget our containers, we don’t eat fast food.  If they refuse our containers, we don’t eat fast food.  It’s very simple.  I don’t know why it took us so long to commit to it.

(There are exceptions of course if you are starving in a fast food strip mall on the side of the road in deepest Idaho, and the restaurants strictly refuse to place anything into your container, and you’ve been driving for nearly 10 hours, and you simply must have a burger or you won’t have the strength to continue driving the next 6 hours that it will take to get home to your beautiful girlfriend whom you haven’t seen in 7 days. . . . .ok, Grant, you are forgiven.)



Filed under food, food waste, reusable containers

6 responses to “Day 217: Fast Food Meltdown

  1. I love that exception at the end! I also love that you bring up new points that I wouldn’t have thought of. That bit about needing food to be wrapped so you can unwrap it ten feet away? Genius!

    I guess I don’t think of these things because we don’t eat fast food very often. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s a shame.

  2. OMG! Drive thrus are horrible. Just how much crap can they cram inside one bag?

    This is exactly why I avoid fast food joints. The amount of packaging is ridiculous!! Just throw it all loose on the tray and I will be happy.

  3. DSF

    There’s a not-quite-fast-food place in my neighborhood, Five Guys. (Apparently an established chain, though new to the area.) They wrap all food, to-go or not, as they have dispensed with trays.

    Is that better or worse? Here in drought-ridden TX, it might be the way to go.

    I’ve taken to requesting they place my fries in the paper containers they have on hand for peanuts instead of their usual oversized Styrofoam soda cup.

    comfortably composting in a small apartment

    • Jen CleanBin

      You bring up an interesting point about water usage vs landfill waste. You’re right that there are parts of the world where water is so precious that some people might feel it is better to use disposable products. I’m not sure I agree with this one. It takes tons of water to make a paper plate anyway. What if everyone was required to bring their own container instead?

      I’m glad to gear you’re moving away from the styrofoam. I hope others see what you’re up to and are inspired to do the same.

  4. Oh Jen I love the way you described the issue of eating take-out when you’re still actually in the restaurant. It’s bonkers isn’t it, the way in which it is all packaged up like that….all I can say is, you’re on a great flow here and keep up with your inspirational stuff 😀 xxx

  5. I love your perspective on this and the work that you are doing. I thought you would find inspiration in the campaign we are running to help solidify the connection between fast food packaging and forest destruction. Check out the website and report at

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