Mac Attack on Solid Waste

AFTER some fitful starts, McDonald's has decided to give environmental responsibility top billing on its corporate menu. The purveyor of fast food to some 22 million people a day is requiring suppliers to use recycled materials and instituting new procedures to make recycling a part of employees' everyday routine. It is even experimenting with biodegradable utensils made from a starch-based substance. The greening of McDonald's springs from its association with the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group based in Washington. The EDF contacted McDonald's in 1989, hoping to discuss solid-waste issues with the firm. Eventually a task force was formed, including EDF researchers and top officials from McDonald's.

According to the company's director of operations, Keith Magnuson, the policy statement that evolved from the task force's work "went beyond our wildest expectations." About halfway through the process, he says, McDonald's and EDF realized "that we had broken through the adversarial rhetoric and could develop solutions."

But isn't it all just another marketing strategy by a company renowned for its ability to capitalize on the public's desires? Mr. Magnuson bristles at the suggestion that McDonald's will use its new environmentalism as an advertising ploy. If that was the purpose, he says, the firm could have "rested" on the laurels gained from its recent switch from polystyrene "clamshell" hamburger packages to paper ones.

The point, he says, is that McDonald's has found it can switch its whole operation to environmentally sound practices without adding a single piece of bureaucratic paperwork or a single new employee. It's a matter of spending money more effectively, says Magnuson.

If that's true, other companies will do well to follow McDonald's example. One major firm, deciding that environmental good citizenship pays, can have a ripple effect through a network of related industries.

The country's solid-waste problems won't be solved by these steps alone, but they can certainly be eased.

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