EarthTalk: Has the McDonald’s restaurant
chain made significant improvements in recent years with
regard to the environment?
—Max Andria, Laval University, Quebec
McDonald's will never please vegetarians, most of
whom consider the meat industry a serious affront
to the environment, the restaurant chain has made
some significant strides in reducing waste, saving
energy and protecting forests by developing a zero
deforestation plan for all the products it sources.
© harry_nl, courtesy Flickr
a poster child of environmental ills and health concerns,
McDonald’s has worked steadily over the last two decades
to clean up its act. The company will never win over vegetarians,
who eschew meat for health, animal welfare and even world
hunger concerns (we’d feed more people by using the
land used to grow animal feed to grow food for people instead),
but it has otherwise made some significant strides.
company first came under fire from greens in the 1980s for
sourcing beef for its hamburgers from ranches on newly cleared,
former rainforest tracts throughout the Amazon basin. In
response, the company committed in 1989 to refuse beef sourced
from recently deforested rainforest areas.
were also on the company’s case about the waste it
generates. So in 1990 McDonald’s partnered with the
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and began phasing out its
polystyrene “clamshell” food containers and
increasing the recycled content of the other food containers
and boxes it uses. EDF and the fast food giant developed
a waste reduction plan that eliminated 300 million pounds
of packaging, recycled a million tons of corrugated boxes
and reduced waste by 30 percent in the decade that followed.
recently, Greenpeace exposed the fact that expanded soy
farming in Brazil—which feeds chickens used by McDonald’s
and other large food companies—had become a threat
to the Amazon rainforest. In response, McDonald’s
partnered with Greenpeace to develop a zero deforestation
plan for all its products.
McDonald’s beef purchasing executives have gotten
in on things: In November 2010 the company was lead sponsor
of the World Wildlife Fund’s first Global Conference
on Sustainable Beef, an international meeting of stakeholders
in the global beef system convened to discuss how to approach
sustainable beef production in socially, environmentally
and economically viable ways.
green highlight for McDonald’s is its commitment to
matching 30 percent of the electricity used at its company-owned
stores with renewable energy credits from American wind
power providers. And several Japanese McDonald’s are
participating in an energy-saving campaign employing 13
different green technologies with the goal of reducing greenhouse
gas emissions by more than 20 percent overall.
McDonald’s is moving in the right direction, it is
still widely criticized for the waste it generates and its
contribution to health woes such as obesity. For its part,
the company has limited control over the 80 percent of its
stores that are run by independent franchisees, so change
under the golden arches is slow.
past spring, McD’s released its Global Best of Green
report highlighting advances made in energy efficiency,
sustainable packaging, anti-littering and greening the workplace
at hundreds of its restaurants around the world, underscoring
it’s commitment to sustainability moving forward.
The company hopes the new report will serve as a catalyst
for franchisees to make similar improvements in their businesses.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: I’ve read conflicting reports
about the dangers of non-stick cookware. I have a set of
older non-stick pans and am not sure if I need to replace
them. Are they harmful to use, particularly if they have
a few scratches?
—Miriam Jones, Montgomery, AL
Teflon is exposed to high heat it can release its
constituent chemical, PFOA, as a gas. There are
no known cases of direct health problems for consumers,
but workers producing Teflon are at increased risk
for certain cancers, prompting the U.S. government
to call for a complete phase-out of Teflon and related
products by 2015.
© Hemera Collection
It may be time
to upgrade your pans, given that the U.S. government has
called for a complete phase-out of polytetrafluorethylene
(PTFE, otherwise known as Teflon) and related products by
2015, due to health concerns. When Teflon is exposed to
high heat it can degrade, which causes it to release its
constituent chemical, PFOA, as a gas. This phenomenon can
kill pet birds, and can’t be good for humans either.
While there are
no known cases of airborne PFOA causing direct health problems
for consumers, workers in plants where Teflon has been produced
are at increased risk for cancers of the pancreas and the
male reproductive tract. “Numerous studies have shown
that PFOA alters reproductive hormones in the male, causing
increased levels of estrogen and abnormal testosterone regulation
and that PFOA or chemicals that break down into PFOA damage
the thyroid gland,” reports Melissa Breyer of the
Breyer adds that
four organs or tissues in the immune system and at least
nine types of cells that regulate immune function are targets
of PFOA, and that scientists have been unable to find a
level of PFOA that doesn’t damage the immune system:
“Doses given to effected lab animals were minimal—and
less, relatively, than levels found in children.”
The fact that PFOA exposure led to testicular, pancreatic,
mammary and liver tumors in rats doesn’t bode well
for what the chemical may do to humans.
Of course, the
risk of exposure is much lower for a person frying an egg
at home than for a factory worker manufacturing PTFE for
DuPont. In 2007, Consumer Reports Magazine tested PTFE-based
non-stick pans from several manufacturers and found harmful
airborne emissions of PFOA to be minimal. “The highest
level was about 100 times lower than levels that animal
studies suggest are of concern for ongoing exposure to PFOA,”
reported the magazine. “With the aged pans, emissions
were barely measurable.”
are working on safer non-stick cookware using ceramic or
silicone coatings free of PTFE or PFOA. But a 2009 survey
of eight such alternatives by Cook’s Illustrated magazine
did not identify any of the new choices out there high marks.
“Not a single one of these ‘green’ pans
was without flaws,” said the magazine. “In some,
delicate eggs burned, thin fish fillets stuck, and steak
charred on the outside while remaining raw within. Others
stained or transferred heat inconsistently.” Some
pans accumulated the browned bits known as fond when steak
was seared, indicating unwanted sticking power.
have resigned themselves to the likelihood that the idea
of a non-stick pan might in and of itself be too good to
be true. As such, cast iron, aluminum, copper and stainless
steel each rate high for even heat distribution and for
holding up well at high temperatures and frequent use. Used
properly—such as by employing a little oil or butter
to inhibit food from sticking—such pans can last decades.
Reports’ Kitchen Cookware; Cook’s
Illustrated “Green Skillets”.