Strategic Management and Sustainability #11
Let’s see together the sustainability of Fast-Food and the major problems of this worldwide phenomenon.
Good morning all,
Today, the Strategy Management and Sustainability newsletter will talk about the topic of fast-food.
Fast food is a real worldwide phenomenon, indeed, the consumption of fast food is huge and is only growing. Thus, some rather frightening statistics such as the fact that 83% of American families eat fast food at least once a week are quite recurrent and can easily be copied from other countries.
The pioneer of the genre remains Mac Donald who in 1940 opened his first fast-food store. It immediately appealed to the public, eating quickly, easily, cheaply, and with, it must be admitted, a menu that appeals.
However, in an era where ecology is more and more important, we have the right to ask ourselves several questions about the fast-food industry. Are they eco-friendly? Do they respect the environment? As you can imagine, the answer is no. But we will come back more precisely on two points which make fast-foods not ecological.
There are two major problems with the fast-food industry that we will talk about today: the consumption of meat and the single-use packaging.
In addition to this, we included a solution: the Fast-food bio and some suggestions to watch or read about the Fast-food industry and its sustainability.
We hope you enjoy this week’s newsletter!
Debroeck Léa, Demars Lauriane, Gotz Alexia, Vermeersch Alexandre
Students at University of Carlos III de Madrid
Today's newsletter is 1709 words, a 7-minute read!
The consumption of meat
Meat is one of the most beloved foods of humans. Paradoxically, it is not the best in terms of nutrition but that is not the point. And it is logical to be able to cite it as one of the most problematic factors in ecological terms for fast food when we see the vast majority of products offered by fast-food chains contain meat.
Here are some figures in relation to our consumption of meat in the world:
In 2018, there were nearly 323 million tons of meat produced in the world.
Every year, 65 billion animals are killed (that's nearly 2,000 animals... per second) to end up on our plates.
The problem is that meat, more than any other food, is expensive for the planet. According to an FAO report, published in 2013, it is estimated that livestock farming in the world was responsible, in 2005, for 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, i.e. linked to human activities, on the planet: this activity emits about 7 billion tons of CO2 per year, more than the United States and France combined.
Here is how the different greenhouse gas emissions are distributed in the process of "manufacturing" meat. Feed production and processing account for 41% of the emissions attributed to livestock production; enteric fermentation (burping) accounts for 44%, and 10% is due to manure storage and processing. The remainder is attributed to the transportation of the meat produced.
Finally, although not all meats pollute in the same way, it is important to know that the meat that pollutes the most is beef. Indeed, beef represents 41% of the emissions due to livestock farming, while it represents only 22% of total meat consumption. However, it is the one that is once again the most present in fast food menus.
Meat production is also very water-intensive. When we know that 1.1 billion people still don't have access to clean water and a third of the world's population is deprived of drinking water, i.e. water that we can consume. According to UNESCO, this means
2.4 billion people are without basic sanitation.
450 million people in 29 countries are confronted with regular water shortage problems.
15,000 people, including 6,000 children, die every day from diseases related to the lack of drinking water. (10 people/minute including 4 children)
In industrial breeding, the production of one kilo of beef absorbs for example 13 500 liters of water, the pig absorbs 4 600 liters, and the chicken, 4 100 liters. This is due to the irrigation of the land, which requires an enormous amount of water.
In addition to all this, we could talk about its consumption of cereals, which is also enormous (on a global level 800 million tons, enough to feed three and a half billion people). Moreover, industrial breeding is also one of the causes of deforestation: 91% of the land "recovered" from the Amazon forest is used for pasture or for the production of soya which will later be used to feed cattle. And less forest means less carbon dioxide emissions. In short, all points logically make it difficult for fast food to be ecological. Especially since they are of course very fond of industrial breeding.
The single-use packaging
Before explaining how fast-food chains pollute a lot because of single-use plastics, it is good to remind what it is, a single-use plastic is packaging designed to be used once, then thrown away. Soda bottles, shampoo bottles, cake bags, washing powder cans, yogurt pots, meat trays, toothpaste tubes, sandwich wrappers... Plastic is everywhere in everyday products. And as you can imagine, it is everywhere in the daily life of fast-food chains.
According to a UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) report, since 1950, the production of plastics has exceeded that of all other materials. The world production of plastic in 2015: 400 million tons Of which 36% is destined for plastic packaging, that is 141 million tons in 2015. The problem is the way to dispose of them: only 9% of these plastics are recycled, 12% are incinerated and 79% are buried in landfills or released into the environment.
This has of course an impact on the environment related to the contamination of soil and water, choking of rivers, and thus exacerbation of natural disasters. It is estimated that by 2050, 99% of seabirds will ingest plastic.
Finally, they are the cause of various health problems. Indeed, there is a chemical called BPA that most single-use packaging is made of. It is important to know that BPA is very bad for your health and can lead to several health concerns such as male and female infertility, precocious puberty, breast and prostate cancers, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and many others.
Plastic takes over 400 years to degrade, so most of them still exists in some form, such as microplastics. Polystyrene and plastic food packaging break down into smaller components and enter the digestive systems of land and water animals, leading to their death or return in tap water, salt and beer, and even the air we breathe.
As you might expect, the single-package concept is very much alive and well in fast food chains. It has a double purpose. On the one hand to reduce costs and therefore maximize profits. As you can see, fast food chains only offer counter service and therefore do not require room service. The unique packaging helped in this sense because the customers could get rid of themselves by throwing everything that remained on their trays in the trash. The fact is that this eliminated the need to wash dishes, for example.
MacDonald's went so far as to encourage the dairy industry in the 1960s to use plastic-lined cartons. This packaging quickly became the standard across the country, providing a lighter, cheaper, and less cumbersome option for shipping.
On the other hand, it made the customer experience simpler and therefore more attractive. In fact, the unique packaging helps customers to consume at home, in the car, wherever they want. Plastic cup lids and straws were a step in this direction, Styrofoam containers were lightweight - which meant they were cheaper to ship - and allowed customers to easily take their food to go.
Finally, there were the famous Happy Meals surprises, also made of plastic, which added an extra attraction for families with children.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Some customer awareness began to develop in the 1980s. Consumers began to criticize McDonald's for its use of environmentally unfriendly polystyrene containers. And thanks to these complaints, by the end of the decade, polystyrene bans were beginning to take hold, forcing McDonald's to rethink its packaging system (although it is still polluting, it is less so)
A more recent example might be plastic straws, which were banned also following customer complaints. This complaint was listened to and now the vast majority of restaurants offer paper straws.
Currently, the McDonald's brand states that worldwide, about 22% of its packaging remains plastic for reasons of functionality or food safety, but it is working to reduce plastic where it can.
One solution: Fast-food bio
However, not everything is black in the world of fast food thanks to the emergence of a new concept, organic fast-food.
The concept of organic fast food is simple: to propose the same standards which made the success of the fast-food (speed of preparation, tasting, and a good taste) while proposing healthy and organic food.
Organic fast food mixes several things: organic agriculture, a method of production called sustainable and healthier products that limit junk food and all this to reach a clientele in search of healthy and fast food.
Moreover, many organic fast foods try to propose more specific needs in relation to a typical clientele like lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant,...
However, organic fast-food restaurants do not only focus on the food they offer. There is also a focus on the packaging. As said before, single-serve packaging is a real scourge, a scourge that organic fast-food restaurants are trying to address in various ways.
For example, at Bio-Burger in Paris, the idea of composting is very present. On the one hand, certified organic hamburger packaging is made of natural materials from composting, on the other hand, it is also recycled at the end of the cycle to become compost.
Compost is even present in the organic waste left by customers that are reused in the composting process.
Finally, in this zero plastic and zero waste ideology, Bio-Burger has also eliminated straws and lids on drinks.
The solutions exist, to see if they will be taken by the fast-food giants or by smaller restaurants which like Bio-Burger have decided to have a healthy production model and to propose a healthy menu.
Article: Report finds chemicals in one-third of fast food packaging, CNN
In this article, they explain that the report found fluorinated chemicals in one-third of the fast-food packaging researchers tested. So, they talk about what constitutes a bad wrap and what a consumer should do.
Video: McDonald’s Plans to Go Green, Fortune
In this video, we learn that McDonald’s says all of its food packaging materials will be eco-friendly by 2025. It also aims to offer recycling at all locations.
Video: Why Meat is the Best of the Worst Things in the World
In this video, they talk about the fact that meat is pretty much the most inefficient way of feeding humans. If we look at it on a global scale, our meaty diet is literally eating up the planet. Why is that, and what can we do about it, without giving up steak?
Video: Takeout creates a lot of trash. It doesn't have to.
The video supports the fact that our single-use items aren't helping the fight against climate change but there are easy hacks to reduce and reuse.