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McDonald’s Environmental Issues

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Published: Mon, 24 Apr 2017

  1. Introduction

There is evidence of corporate sustainability, which is a balance of economic, social, and environment as a necessity for business (Dyllick and Hockerts, 2002). Additionally, companies caring about their environmental issue will not only benefit the environment but also the company itself. Consumers show preferences for green products and are willing to pay a premium price thus improve revenues (Peattie, 2001). While dealing with environmental impacts, corporates may find ways to reduce their costs and waste. Reputation could be earned at the same time (Bansal and Roth, 2000).

As one of the world’s largest fast food chains, McDonald’s is criticized by environmentalists with many problems. It is vital for McDonald’s to identify its key issues and provide solutions. In this essay, McDonald’s impact on global warming and packaging waste as well as it responses will be discussed. Then, recommendations are drawn.

  1. McDonald’s environmental issues

The main issue of McDonald’s negative impact on the environment is global warming resulting from greenhouse gas emissions from cows as well as damaging the rainforest for raising beef cattle and grains. For one thing, methane emitted from cattle is a major contributor of global warming. McDonald’s, as one of the world’s largest buyer of beef, is using 350000 cattle a year. With so many cows farting all day, they could produce a considerable amount of greenhouse gas. In the UK for example, 4% of the carbon emissions are the gas emitted by livestock (Day, 2010). For another, McDonald’s is causing the deforestation in the rain forest. McDonald’s often buys meats for its burgers from privatized farms. These privatized farms, however, are being blamed for not environmentally because the farmland they used to rear the cattle used to be a lush rainforest (Ecologist, 2010). In addition, trees in the rainforest are cut down for agricultural to grow grain for the livestock and poultry (Chew, 2001). According to Greenpeace, McDonald’s feed the chickens with the soybeans grown in the Amazon rainforest because those soybeans are cheaper (Astor, 2006). Therefore, McDonald’s is not only responsible for greenhouse gas emissions but destroying forests, which could help to address global warming.

Global warming is an important issue for business as it could have negative impact on economies. McDonald’s should care about this because global warming would influence food supply and transportation, which are two main sectors for fast food industry. Regarding food, global warming may affect production of seafood and agricultural. The rising water temperature has damage the coral reef ecosystems, which are homes to many marine species. Loss of shelters is threatening the survival of coral reef fish. Crop production may also decline. For instance, in parts of Africa, growing season for crops is shortening due to the warmer and dryer weather (Grossman, 2013). Farmers may have to abandon their land that are too warm or too dry and invest in new areas. This causes problems of decreasing revenue as well as food productivity. Furthermore, transportations may face an increase in fuel cost because of climate-related policies. Since carbon dioxide emitted from burning oil contributes largely to global warming, governments are imposing taxes to fossil fuel and result in the price to rise (Grossman, 2013). Prices of biofuels are increasing as well due to the decline of crop production. For the society, global warming not only brings about economic impacts but social problems. People would have a greater chance of suffering from drought, floods, and other climate-related disasters (Stern, N., 2008). Thus, may lead to an increasing number of environmental refugees. The mass migrant is likely to trigger conflict with indigenous resident and even conflicts between countries (Hartmann, 2010).

Packaging waste is another environmental problem McDonald’s should tackle with. Considering how much waste is created when getting a meal from McDonald’s: a wrapper for burger, a box for fries, a cup for drinks with a lid and a straw, napkins, and a bag for individual use. McDonald’s use tons of unnecessary packing everyday, which end up littering on the street and buried in landfills. Convenience and portability are the main reason for the packaging waste for fast food industry. As people now in busy modern lifestyle prefer easy and quick food, the amount of waste that fast food industry created therefore increased (Aarnio and Hamalainen, 2008). According to a survey in England, 29% of the litter on streets is the wrappers and cups from McDonald’s (Gray, 2009).

McDonald’s should take action to reduce its packaging waste since waste generation could cause serious environmental pollution and put human health at rick. Within Europe, 50 million tons of packaging wastes are produce every year. To burn these huge amounts of waste may release some harmful chemicals into the air, which is harmful to people’s health. Landfilling, likewise, could lead to land pollution and kill underground animals that live there. Wastes may also flow to the ocean and become marine debris, harming marine life (Golub, 1996). Additionally, waste generation represents human’s “inefficient use of natural resources” (Scortar, 2013).

3. McDonald’s responses

McDonald’s is alert of these issues and has announced several environmental initiatives to prove that it is trying to solve its environmental impacts.

Concerning global warming, McDonald’s make efforts to reducing its impact on deforestation and carbon emission. Firstly McDonald’s promise not to buy soya grown in Amazon rainforest (Greenpeace, 2006). Deforestation for soya farming and cattle ranching in Amazon is one major driver for global warming. Studies have shown the relationship between soya production and deforestation rate in Amazon (Nepstad, Stickler and Almeida, 2006). McDonald’s approach to stop using soya from Amazon could reduce rainforest destruction and help mitigate global warming.

To reduce carbon footprint, McDonald’s improves carbon efficiency by using energy-efficient equipment and low-energy lights in its restaurants (McDonald’s, 2013). According to Stern (2008), the mitigation in energy use is important as it has equal effect as agriculture and deforestation in contributing greenhouse gas emission. Moreover, McDonald’s had team up with E-CO2 project, a consultancy and energy auditing company, to measure cattle’s methane emission of its farms. E-CO2 project not only provide carbon assessment tool but also help farms to reduce emissions by using new technology on the farm (Day, 2010). Livestock account for 14.5% of human-caused global greenhouse gas emission. Hence it is critical to cut emission from livestock production. McDonald’s solution to this issue, which is changing farming techniques can be considered appropriate. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the adoption of better techniques can cut as much as 30% of global warming gases (FAO, 2013). In 2014, the fast-food chain took another step to reduce carbon emission, announcing it would start purchase verified sustainable beef. Nevertheless, McDonald’s is criticized for not giving definition for sustainable and not providing what percentage will its meat come from those sources (Picchi, 2014). A more specific standard should be set up on selecting its meat suppliers.

To deal with packaging waste issue, McDonald’s redesigned it’s packaging with sustainable materials and to be recyclable. In 2011, McDonald’s claimed that 82% of its packaging are made from renewable materials (Farmer, 2011). In the US restaurants, McDonald’s stop using polystyrene famed coffee cup and replace it with paper-based cups (Environment News Service, 2013). This approach could have positive effect on the marine environment. Foamed polystyrene is frequently used for fast food packaging. This foamed plastic, however, is non-sustainable and is not widely recycled. After littered, they may easily travel through gutters and end up in the ocean. It is the most common components of marine debris. When the polystyrene breaks down into small indigestible pellets, marine animals or birds may mistake them as food and eat them, which would lead to their death (Owens, Zhang, and Mihelcic, 2011). Although paper cups still have its own problems such as energy waste and the chemicals uses during the production, it is a recyclable recourse and will not exist in the environment for such long time as polystyrene does.

Besides redesigning packaging, recycling programs are introduced. For example, 11 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK are recycling waste to turn them into electricity instead of sending them to landfills (Eccleston, 2008). Working with the Environmental Defense Fund help McDonald’s find ways to reuse and recycle packaging (Farmer, 2011). However, to reduce waste may be the may be a better solution than simply recycling. Despite that recycling reduces landfill use and conserves natural recourses, the process of recycling could generate other negative effects on the environment. Wastes needed to be sorted, collected and processed and this consumes a lot of energy. During the recycling, harmful chemicals may also release into the air (Berkin, Carrigan and Szmigin, 2007). Recycling may help ease the pollution of waste but mass consumption of unnecessary packaging is the key problem to packaging waste issue. McDonald’s should focus more on reducing the amount of waste it produce.

4. Recommendations

To make sure that it purchases meat from a sustainable resource, McDonald’s could create a code of conduct on how it selecting suppliers. The rules could be not buying beef that are raised on deforested land or acquire its suppliers to agree that they would improve and apply new methods of raising cattle and poultry which could be beneficial in reducing carbon emissions. Take IKEA for example, it set up an IKEA Way of Purchasing Home Furnishing Products (IWAY) which lists many requirements for its suppliers’ environmental behavior such as purchasing wood from forests that are managed in a sustainable way. Choosing suppliers following the IWAY enables IKEA to successfully obtain a sustainable supply chain (IKEA, 2011). By making a code of conduct, McDonald’s could have a clear standard on the requirements its suppliers should meet. Being stricter on choosing suppliers that contribute less to greenhouse gases and deforestation would help McDonald’s lowering its impact on global warming.

McDonald’s should also invest in research and support its supplier to adopt other practices that are useful in cutting emission from livestock and pasture since the suppliers have limited financial resource in developing new techniques. Apart from using new technology, carbon sequestration in rangeland, change in cattle’s diet and agroforestry could have long-term benefits in reducing agriculture and livestock’s contribution to global warming. First of all, carbon sequestration in rangeland has great potential in mitigation of the impact of livestock production. This method can be done by planting deep-rooted pasture such as Brachiaria. It is estimated that Brachiaria can capture and store 29.5 t/ha more carbon than other pasture (Thornton and Herrero, 2009). Preventing overgrazing and adding nutrients from manure or fertilizer can also have positive effect on carbon storage (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011). Diet improvement may further help to mitigate cows’ methane emission. Reducing methane could be beneficial to the environment because methane is 23 times as powerful as CO2 at causing global warming (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011). For instance, Beauchemin and McGinn (2005) suggest that a corn-based diet would decrease cattle’s greenhouse gas emission. In addition, adaptation of agroforestry could provide positive to the environment. The increasing of trees enables greater carbon sequestration. Agroforestry can also produce more digestible and nutritive crop and forage for cattle, which decrease methane production digestion (Thornton and Herrero, 2009). If McDonald’s could assist its suppliers in implementing new methods such as carbon sequestration, changing cow’s diet and turning into agroforestry system, it is likely to reduce carbon emissions more efficiently.

In order to reduce packaging waste, using reusable containers and giving incentive to customer to provide their own cups may be two options for McDonald’s. McDonald’s can replace some of its packaging such as salad containers and coffee cups with reusable ones because recycling packaging including glass and paper are proved to be less environmental than reusable packaging (Van Dam, 1996). KFC has started using eco-friendly container in its US restaurants since 2010 and plans to replace paper boxes with reusable plastic plates (Environmental Leader, 2010). McDonald’s could also offer discounts to encourage customers to provide their own beverage bottle or coffee cups. For instance, consumers buying coffee in Starbucks will have a ten-cent discount if they bring their own cup. Moreover, Aydinliyim and Pangburn (2012) indicate that such campaign could help companies to increase profit. With the introduction of reusable containers and promotion, McDonald’s is possible to earn more while reducing waste at the same time.

5. Conclusion

McDonald’s has been criticized for having bad influences on the environment. To provide meat for its food, McDonald’s indirectly causing deforestation in rainforest and greenhouse gas emission. In addition, McDonald’s use too much unnecessary packaging and many of them are non-recyclable and non-renewable. Thus, it can be concluded that the main environmental issues for McDonald’s are global warming and packaging waste generation. McDonald’s itself is aware of these issues and has made several strategies to solve the problem. By stop purchasing soybean in Amazon, improving carbon efficiency and using new farming techniques, McDonald’s could successfully reduce its impact on global warming. However, McDonald’s still cannot guarantee that its meat all come from sustainable recourse. With regard to packaging waste, McDonald’s redesign packaging with sustainable materials and start recycling programs while neglecting the importance of reducing waste generation. To better tackle with these issues, it is recommended that McDonald’s draw up a code of conduct for its supplier selection to work with farms and ranches that is not harming the forest. Furthermore, McDonald’s should monitor and support supplier to reduce impacts on carbon and methane emission. Practices including carbon sequestration, changing cattle’s diet and agroforestry may be useful. It is also important for McDonald’s to use reusable container and promote customers to bring their own containers by offering them discount to reduce packaging consumption. By doing so, McDonald’s could lower its negative effects on global warming and packaging waste.


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