For many parents, the most troubling part about eating at McDonald’s is the food. But for 14-year-old Thomas Haney student Jaden Dyer, it’s the junk the food comes packaged in.
“I go to McDonald’s sometimes and I noticed that no restaurants really have any recycling,” Dyer said. “It’s hard to imagine how much they actually throw out because there’s no recycling there.”
Dyer noticed that, after finishing their meals, McDonald’s customers had no choice but to throw their food wrappings and containers in the garbage, despite items like Happy Meal boxes being made from 100 per cent recycled paper with at least 35 per cent post-consumer content.
“They said that they make a lot of their packaging recyclable, but they don’t have a place to recycle them, so that didn’t make sense to me. Why would you go through all that trouble and money if there’s no point to it,” Dyer said. “No fast food places really have that kind of thing.”
Tired of seeing the discarded trash, Dyer wrote a letter to McDonald’s head office in Toronto. In it, she commends McDonald’s for taking some steps to be more eco-friendly, but notes that customers have no option to responsibly dispose of the restaurant’s eco-friendly packaging within the restaurant itself.
“In most family homes, over 75 per cent of all their waste each week can be recycled, so imagine how much could be kept out of landfills each day in a busy restaurant,” Dyer wrote. “There would be an amazing difference in the world.”
Dyer is the cousin of Becky Dyer, who was killed, along with her boyfriend, Johnny De Oliveira, in 2010, when a car flipped over a median on the Lougheed Highway and landed on top of their Suzuki Swift.
Becky’s mother, Debbie Dyer, Jaden’s aunt, said that the two were an influence on each other growing up.
“Jaden used to go and visit Becky where she used to work, and Becky always wore the shirt ‘green is the new black’,” she said. “They were so much alike, those two.”
Jaden Dyer said she’s always had a passion for the environment.
“I hate how much we throw out. You go around to parks and things and it’s all just garbage cans, and people even litter, they don’t take the time to put it in the garbage,” she said.
While McDonald’s Canada said it has not yet received the letter, western Canada communications manager John Gibson said that most restaurants across the country recycle as much waste as they can.
“That could include everything from cardboard boxes to the used oil from the fryers, which is the case in our Maple Ridge restaurants,” he said. “We estimate that these two items alone represent 36 per cent of the in-restaurant waste by weight.”
Gibson said that Ontario is the only province so far where customers are able to sort their waste by category, where source-separation policies are enforced.
“The challenge is that when packaging is soiled by sauces or leftover food it becomes difficult to recycle,” he said.
“Jaden has strong beliefs,” said Debbie Dyer. “And she researches so much, too. Becky’s favourite quote was, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world,’ and I think that exemplifies Jaden, as well. And Jaden believes in that, too.”
Jaden Dyer is in Grade 8, but has already joined a club called EcoAction, and participates in environmental action such as the school-funded We Day, an educational event that has helped raise $26 million for over 900 causes.
Still, Dyer wishes there were more young people engaged in environmentalism.
“I just love the environment, I love nature, I love going out and camping and stuff, and I just hate how no one really acknowledges that there needs to be a difference that needs to be made,” she said. “A lot of people don’t seem to care.”
“It would only take one easy step,” Dyer wrote in her letter to McDonald’s. “ We must be the change that we wish to see in the world and together we can make a difference.”