Addressing fast food napkin overkill

I indulged in one of my guilty pleasures recently – a burger from a fast food chain. I have no valid excuse and I know a hamburger’s environmental footprint is pretty hefty, but darn it, the cravings get the better of me from time to time.

Anyhow, as I was munching on my burger, I looked inside the bag and saw a pile of napkins – 8 in total. That’s simply overkill.

In my pre-Green Living Tips days when I managed a fast food outlet, part of the training given to new team members was to ensure they understood not to do this sort of thing. It was a battle we often lost.

Why I think this training so often failed is the reasoning we provided – paper napkins cost money and waste impacts on the company’s bottom line.

That’s very true, but we had the message wrong. The team members, often teenagers, knew the company was filthy rich and consequently it fell on deaf ears.

I believe the message that fast food restaurant managers and trainers need to also get across is the environmental impact of giving out too many napkins, straws, condiments, whatever (unless of course the customer asks for extra).

Examples can be used, like so – “McDonald’s provides 40 million meals per day, if we give out even just one extra napkin on average with each meal, that comes to 40 million extra napkins a day or 14.6 *billion* per year. This means a lot of waste and wasted environmental resources such as energy to make the napkins and trees to provide the fiber.”

Another point that needs to be relayed is to “make haste slowly”. Fast food employees are pressured to work very quickly and at times that leads to all sorts of issues, including just grabbing a fistful of napkins. If they can’t be allowed an extra second or two to ensure they have the napkin count right; something is very wrong in that restaurant.


Consumption statistics
Waste decomposition rates
The paper reduction diet