Letters to McDonald’s

September 18, 2019

McDonald’s Corporation / Steve Easterbrook, President and CEO 110 N Carpenter Street / Chicago, IL 60607-2101

Dear Steve Easterbrook:

I grew up with two hard-working parents, in a family of four. Because of my parents’ full schedules throughout my childhood, our family generally ate out two meals per week, and one of those meals was usually fast food. McDonald’s, as a fast-food franchise, is a very early part of my dining experience and cultural awareness.

Six hours from Chicago by car, the first white-and-red-tiled McDonald’s we frequented was a drive-up. The golden arches were singular—one adjacent to the other, as if guarding the little magic building which produced consistently perfect, golden French fries, super rich shakes and reliably filling sandwiches. Eating there was like basking in a spot of California sunshine during the long winters of the Upper Midwest. (I think the Beach Boys’ music playing on the car radio might have helped a little bit or the sunny feeling that warm food produces in a child’s full belly.)

Now, back to our story. Our family counted the rising number of burgers, updated on the sign each week, along with headquarters, as well as enjoying the introduction of the Big Mac to the menu. We appreciated that our McDonald’s restaurant, as busy as it was, would also take the time to make a plain fish sandwich for the likes of my younger sister, who was a particular, particular eater. (Yes, two particulars.)

As a young, conscientious American family, we were on-board with the put-your-litter-in-its-place campaign. My father, a teacher, drew attention to the printing of the campaign’s slogan on McDonald’s packaging. As a household, we celebrated McDonald’s corporate decision to changeout polystyrene clamshells for biodegradable cardboard. (We might have held a bias on this decision because we lived in paper-making country.) The conscientious, corporate move on McDonald’s part to phase out all-white napkins and take-out bags and replace them with their natural counterparts made us, as a family, feel like you cared about our rivers and streams, the very waterways where the logs for making paper used to float to the papermills.

Because I grew up in a teaching household, each of these seemingly minor decisions granted my father additional teaching moments. “Industry leader” and “corporate responsibility” entered my awareness, shaped my observing mind and expanded my growing vocabulary.

The time has come for McDonald’s to reassume its position as an industry leader of corporate responsibility.

I am writing to request that you consider the use of bamboo utensils, going retro with your straws by reintroducing paper, phasing out the use of plastic drinking cups in favor of a biodegradable alternative/s, as well as switching to tree-free toilet paper. Then, tell us about it. Education is a two-way street. These may seem like large requests, but I know that McDonald’s has a history of solution-based leadership. I trust you to do that which you have been able to do in the past—innovate and help us all move forward.

Sincerely,

Julian Lynn

Because I sent out more than one letter, choosing to mail to multiple corporate officers, I received two responses.

October 17, 2019

Thank you for contacting McDonald’s about the environment. Like you, we care about the environment and are always looking for ways to preserve it.

McDonald’s has a long history of helping the environment. More than 40 years ago, our corporation’s founder, Ray Kroc, picked up litter for several blocks surrounding his first restaurant. Today, we remain committed to responsible and environmentally sound practices in every aspect of our business.

For more information about our commitment to the environment, please visit our website at www. macdonalds.com.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact us about this important issue.

It is 2020, and I pick up the trash in and around my neighborhood, which is about seven blocks from a MacDonald’s, as well as a variety of other fastfood chains.  Alas, I have not yet had a  sighting of the benevolent ghost of a Ray Kroc doing trash pick-up in my neighorhood.  The trash I collect includes many nonbiodegradable, plastic drink cups from MacDonald’s.

This is the second response from the same customer service representative.

December 04, 2019

Thank you for taking the time to re-contact McDonald’s about our sustainability efforts and the use of plastic straws.

At McDonald’s, we are committed to improving the environmental and social impact of the way food is farmed, produced and served. We are working to maximize the efficiency of our restaurants, create smarter packaging and transform waste into new resources. McDonald’s is resolved to be part of the solution and influence change.

As you stated, plastic pollution is a problem. But it’s also an opportunity for creative thinking and innovation. We continue to work with our suppliers to seek innovative, sustainable packaging designs. It takes a lot of work, effective partnerships and new technologies, and we’re committed to doing it.

Again, thank you for contacting McDonald’s.

Errands

Driving a friend to the south end of town to look for an appropriate shower gift for someone else, I am in the rare circumstance of being in a traditional retail store. Once inside, we agree to go our separate ways and meet up a little later.

Wandering the aisles and enjoying all of the beautiful displays, I find myself standing in the middle of a large selection of handbags. I cannot help but pick up an exquisitely designed bag. The handbag is in medium brown with an alligator-skin pattern. The hardware is minimalistic and shiny gold. The supple material of this mid-sized purse yields easily to the touch and has a tender, “authentic” feel. Upon further inspection, I see that the bag is labelled vegan. Thus, the purse is probably made from a synthetic material derived from petrochemicals.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Because of my early exposure to a wide array of petrochemicals, experience has taught me to be careful about purchasing petroleum-based or plastic products. If any new products of this ilk are purchased, they spend weeks sunning on the edge of our back deck or in the garage to be outgassed before entering the house. My visual-aesthetic sense gets the best of my logical knowing, and I do not put the handbag down, opting instead to cross the large retail space to find my shopping companion for a second opinion.

The store is crowded, humming. Amid the background hum as I leave the section with handbags, I overhear a gentleman shopping with his wife remark, “Look at all of these purses. I had no idea there would be so many to choose from.” Style, color, size, material, brand. The array of choices in one department alone can be overwhelming.

Meeting midway between each of the departments where we had been browsing, my shopping companion and I compare the items we have found. Our conversation is not only practical, but philosophical as well. We ask questions about how we make choices as consumers—the internal and external drives behind what and why we buy.

Considering the vegan handbag in hand, I begin with an internal consideration, “There are my own issues of chemical sensitivity to consider.” Then, switching to an external consideration, I muse, “I have vegan friends who would be in full support of  my choosing this handbag over one made of traditional leather.  And, with the leather handbags here, there is no way for me to determine, without a lot of research, whether or not the makers have used a vegetable tanning process—not to mention issues of labor.”

Various concerns are raised as we talk about the advantages and disadvantages surrounding my potential purchase. From experience, I know a well-made leather handbag lasts me ten to twelve years. And, although this bag has the look and feel of leather, I also know that, from a materials perspective, it would last no more than two to three years, because plastics crack. Also, stark images of this vegan  bag ending up in the stomach of some cetacean are adding to my desire to take the bag back to its place of display.

“Why aren’t any designers making excellently crafted fabric bags with high-end hardware?” I wonder aloud.

“Why don’t you just get that bag and see how you feel tomorrow?  You can always return it,” my friend offers me a quick solution on our way to the checkout.

Continuing our conversation while in line, I voice some of my ongoing thoughts, “In addition to the issues of manufacture, I am thinking about end-point disposal. With a leather bag, assuming a rare cotton lining, I can actually denude a bag of its hardware, dig a pit in my garden and, over time, everything would return to the earth. With the leather bag scenario, the only issue, then, would be the non-biodegradable material from the bag’s stitching.”

Purchases in hand, we walk out to the parking lot.

At home, I place the new bag on the edge of my bed, then, close the door of my room. In the kitchen, I prepare dinner for my family. Three hours later, after dinner has been enjoyed and dishes have been done, I return to my bedroom to turn down my covers. Opening the door to the room, I take three steps back because the fumes from the new handbag are completely overwhelming. Calling my husband to get the offending item out of the bedroom, he appears to remove the item. Walking the new bag out to the garage, it is hung from the end of a metal, garage-door track, awaiting its return voyage to the store.