The Rap On Fast Food

May 15, 1998

By Michael Jessen

Like most eight-year-olds, my daughter Caitlin likes to eat out at a fast-food restaurant occasionally with her father. Knowing my concerns about making garbage, a friend to whom I mentioned these restaurant visits said to me: "I won't tell anyone!"

This reaction gave me the opportunity to tell my friend how much of the waste in fast-food restaurants is recyclable and what I personally do with it. Since few restaurants have recycling containers, I simply take it home and put it in with my home recycling. Until restaurants have better recycling programs, you can do this too.

My family once had lunch at a McDonald's restaurant. The empty food packaging, napkins and placemat weighed 50 grams in total. All but 15 grams (a drink cup, lid and straw) were recyclable. That's a 70 percent saving in waste!

Of course, there should be no food or drink residue left in the packaging or napkins. My solution is to put any residue in the non-recyclable drink cup, throw that in the restaurant's garbage and take the rest of the paper leftovers home for recycling in the mixed paper category.

But some restaurant's cups are recyclable, A & W's for instance. The way to determine if the cup is recyclable is to run your thumbnail down the outside of the cup. If wax is obviously loosened by this action, the cup is NOT recyclable.

Other cups such as those used at A & W and the Seven-11 Big Gulp cups are recyclable. I once had a Pepsi from the Nelson Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in a recyclable cup, but a Pepsi ordered from the nearby PizzaReo came in a heavily waxed non-recyclable cup, so check them out carefully if you want to recycle them.

What other kinds of paper are recyclable from a fast-food restaurant? An obvious one is the brown or coloured paper bag your food may come in. Others include your Big Mac container, your french fry container, your salt and pepper paper wrappers, your Chicken McNuggets container, your Subway cup, your Seattle Best and Starbucks coffee cups, your paper placemats and napkins, as long as they are not too soiled (small stains are okay). Paper towels used in restaurant washrooms are also recyclable if used only to dry your hands.

One kind of paper that's not recyclable is the wrapping paper around your burger, your Country Chicken Deluxe, or your Subway sandwich. If you have any doubts about the recyclability of certain papers, it is best to check with your local recycler before putting it in your recycling container.

At the RDCK Recycles depot in Nelson, we are constantly sending samples of paper to our paper buyer to determine recyclability. When the answer came back recently that Haagen-Dazs ice cream containers were recyclable as mixed paper, it took a lot of guilt off my mind.

So if you eat out often at fast-food restaurants, remember all the packaging and other paper waste doesn't have to go in the garbage can. If people would take precautions to keep the paper waste clean and free of food residue, we might find the restaurants willing to install recycling containers.

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