Fast Food and Waste
85 Million Tacos, Please
Nearly 85 million Americans eat fast food on any given day.
That’s 85 million ¼ pound patties, 85 million sides of fries, and 85 million drinks. Of course we’re obviously making wild assumptions; this could be 85 million cups of coffee and donuts, 85 million footlongs, or 85 million tacos, but we all know nothing beats a burger and fry combo… right?
As we grow aware of the unintended consequences of our consumption, we seek more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Nestled between the cost of your burger and fry combo and it’s externalities are the root issues behind consumption, External Costs. These are costs avoided by a producer or consumer and instead externalized onto someone — or thing — else.
It looks like this: Internal Costs + External Costs = True Social Cost
• Internal Costs would be things like the wrappers, tomato’s and bags.
• External Costs would be things like taxes for street cleanup, labor for sorting and cleaning recyclables, and the healthcare bills from incineration and landfill emissions.
Imagine it costs a restaurant $1,000 to implement a recycling, organics, and waste disposal system. If they charged $1 extra per order, they would pay off this system in 1,000 orders.
External Cost -> Externality
When these costs are externalized, we see the resulting externality. That looks like this:
Internal Costs = Price at Register
↳ Externalized Cost → Externality
This $1 cost could have paid for a better waste management system. Instead, the dirty wrappers, leftover tomato bits and paper bag were thrown in the trash. It was all sent to our landfills or incinerated.
The burger may have looked $1 cheaper on the menu as these costs were initially footed by our environment and communities, but eventually society pays the bill in things like rising healthcare premiums (from landfill & incineration emissions and leachate) and increased food costs (from soil degradation & compost costs).
*This is where the “Don’t tread on me” philosophy breaks down. Nearly everything we buy has an unpaid external cost that “treads on” someone — or thing — else.
Here are some common External Costs avoided in our agricultural system and their resulting Externalities
• Mining Costs
• Water Costs (contaminated groundwater)
• Increased Prices (resource scarcity)
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
• Healthcare Bills
• Climate Migration
• Shorter Winter Ski Season
• Top Soil Replenishment
• Water Contamination (runoff)
• Increased Food Prices (reduced production)
If you’d like to learn more about Externalities and External Costs, check out the following linkTHE THEORY OF EXTERNALITIES
As a conscious consumer, you may be on the lookout for “biodegradable”, “compostable” or “recyclable” waste bags.
But then the FTC releases a statement stating that these claims are, for the most part, marketing magic. They’re biodegradable IF you do 10 handstands while reciting the alphabet backwards. They’re compostable IF you can execute “The Floss” perfectly.
Think about it, how could a “recyclable” trash bag be recycled if it was holding a bunch of non-recyclables?
Tying It All Together
So how can someone with little money or political influence make an impact on a system run by the almighty dollar?
Let’s tie it all together.
“Biodegradable”, “compostable”, “recyclable”? It’s tough to spot the marketing magic.
What is for certain is that the massive growth and use of these terms means that our conscious consumption and “voting with our dollar” works.
Here are a few legit labels to look for.
• BPI Certification – ASTM D6400
• R2 and e-Stewards®
When it’s impossible to tell the difference between marketing magic and fluff, you’d expect the government to help out.
Here are some of the organizations holding our government accountable.
• Plastic Pollution Coalition
It’s in a corporation’s best interest to avoid all the external costs they can. More money for them and more “affordable” products for us.
But as we’ve just learned, these costs don’t just disappear.
It’s also in their interest to use labels that sell product, whether that’s for the benefit of society or their bottom line.
That’s where it’s our government’s job to step in. With proper regulation, they can force producers to pay for their external costs and use proper labels.
Here are a few ways our government does that.
• Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling
• Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act
Imagine a world in which you send your spare change from your BPI certified compostable doggie poop bags to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
The Plastic Pollution Coalition uses your spare change to advocate for their Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act
The government then passes the act, which shifts the financial waste management burden from you, to the producers of the waste.
The producers then find it more financially worthwhile to research & develop a sustainable doggie bag that biodegrades in landfills. They make heaps of profit and you helped and mitigate the externality of plastic pollution.