McDonald’s Is Testing Out Plastic-Free Restaurants in Germany and Canada

Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The public pressure on corporations to adopt sustainable practices grows stronger by the day, but there’s no manual on how exactly they should do it. To give itself some room to experiment before committing to a global roll-out, McDonald’s is testing out plastic-free restaurants in Germany and Canada.

Food & Wine reports that the first location to go green was a McDonald’s in Germany’s Mall of Berlin, which the burger behemoth dubbed the Better McDonald’s Store for 10 days in June. While some changes were pretty standard—paper straws and wooden cutlery replaced their plastic counterparts, for example—others demonstrated a commendable level of creativity. Condiments came in edible waffle cups, and burgers were served in wrapping made from actual grass.

According to a press release, the Berlin trial was a way of allowing customers and stakeholders to contribute to the discussion and provide feedback so McDonald’s could adjust its large-scale game plan accordingly.

“Normally, McDonald’s goes out with perfect solutions,” Diana Wicht, the sustainability department head for McDonald’s Germany, explained in the press release. “This time we said ‘We don’t have perfect solutions yet … Please help us!”

McDonald's is implementing new sustainable options in some of its restaurants worldwide
McDonald's

Unsurprisingly, customers did have some thoughts. The grass packaging was a straightforward success, and the waffle cups had a fair number of fans, too—though some felt the shape of the cups could be better optimized for dipping McNuggets. Straws presented more of a conundrum, because most people acknowledge that while plastic straws are evil, paper straws disintegrate too quickly to be a workable solution; some customers suggested completely eliminating straws for patrons dining in the restaurant simply by serving lid-less drinks. Wooden cutlery, however, was a flop; one of every two customers surveyed said it tasted “woody.”

Overall, McDonald’s deemed the experiment a success, and has opened two comparable stores in Ontario and British Columbia to gauge Canadian customers' responses.

The fast-food giant has also sprinkled smaller sustainability changes in other stores around the globe. McDonald’s Canada swapped out its napkins for smaller ones manufactured from recycled fibers, and McDonald’s UK is in the process of ditching plastic McFlurry lids and replacing plastic salad containers with recyclable cardboard versions.

Hopefully, the McDonald’s sustainability overhaul will also lead to the invention of a McFlurry machine that doesn’t break down so often.

[h/t Food & Wine]

15 Things You Can Do to Help Keep Oceans Clean

pcess609/iStock, Getty Images
pcess609/iStock, Getty Images

Summer is almost here, and millions of people will take to the most beautiful beaches all around the world for relaxing afternoons of sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. Our beaches and oceans are a natural wonder that should be taken advantage of, after all. But they're also facing a pollution crisis. From untold tons of plastic to carbon emissions and household chemicals getting into our waterways, the dangers facing marine life are mounting.

In honor of World Environmental Health Day on September 26, it's important to realize that it's not enough just to enjoy our oceans—we also have to keep them clean and actively protect them. And here are 15 ways you can help.

1. Educate yourself.

A discarded plastic cup in the ocean.
Placebo365/iStock, Getty Images

It's hard to clean up the ocean without knowing why and how it gets polluted in the first place. So the first step is to get informed. Go online, turn on a documentary, or grab a book from the library—there are countless ways to learn about the ocean without having to move off the couch.

Learn how your plastic water bottle winds up in the ocean in the first place, or how the oil from your engine can travel through the sewer and into nearby bodies of water. You can even learn about lesser-known forms of pollution—did you know that even noise pollution underwater can kill marine life? The best way to begin your ocean advocacy is to know the hows and whys.

2. Cut down on plastic use.

Endless plastic bottles on discarded on the beach.
Sablin/iStock, Getty Images Plus

There are plenty of reasons to cut down on the plastic you use every day, but if you want to do your part for the ocean, it's doubly important. To put it into sobering perspective: It's possible that around 8 million tons of plastic get into our oceans every year, harming plant life, water quality, and marine animals around the globe. To put that into further perspective, around Los Angeles, around 10 tons of plastic fragments find their way into the Pacific every day.

Single-use plastics are among the most wasteful, but they're also the easiest change you can make to your lifestyle. Instead of buying single-use plastic water bottles in bulk, switch to reusable bottles you can fill up again and again. There is also a movement among cities, countries, and certain restaurant chains to get rid of plastic straws, bags, utensils, and other smaller plastic items that can be easily swapped out for something more sustainable. Make that change in your own home, too.

3. Hold companies accountable.

krblokhin/iStock, Getty Images Plus

It's not just individual consumers who need to watch their plastic consumption—it's local restaurants and global corporations as well. Find out which companies and businesses employ the best practices when it comes to packaging and plastic usage and which ones don't.

If you feel like your local take-out place or café is being excessively wasteful, tell them. (Also, do your part by telling them you don't need any plastic utensils or paper napkins if you're planning to eat at home or the office.) And if your issue is with a larger chain, get in touch with them on social media or write an email. Then you can start digging deeper. Harmful microbeads are banned in the U.S. [PDF] for their impact on oceans, but what about in other countries? And are the products you're using actually free of them? Find out, because while you may practice clean ocean habits, the companies you buy from may not.

4. Be aware of chemicals in your gardens and on your lawn.

Woman spraying plants in her garden
iStock

Pesticides, fertilizers, weed killers—three things that are ubiquitous on lawns and gardens around the world, but each can be very harmful for our oceans. Pesticides and weed killers work by using dangerous chemicals, and though your plants and yard may benefit, those chemicals can easily get into our water systems. And if you live close enough to an ocean, they’ll likely end up there.

Fertilizers have an interesting effect on the eco-system. The excess nutrients can be carried by rain and wind to various water systems. Once in rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans, these nutrients can help with the growth of algae at an unnatural rate. When this happens, the algae's natural toxins can not only poison marine life, but the algae itself can use up the oxygen in certain areas of water, making it impossible for anything else to survive. These are called "dead zones," and the roughly 500 of them around the globe cover some 245,000 square kilometers (that's about the size of the UK). Luckily, there are ways to have and maintain a garden while being responsible to the environment.

5. Recognize the harm of individual litter.

Picking up a bottle on the beach
iStock

Picking up after yourself on the beach should go without saying, but just take a look around the sand the next time you're by the shore—obviously someone didn't get the memo. Stray bottles, cans, bags, and napkins can be ubiquitous along waterways, and even just one piece of litter can pose a problem. This garbage can be picked up by the wind, get stuck around the necks of birds and other animals, and carried back out to sea by the tides.

Keep anyone in your party accountable for their messes, and if you encounter some trash that isn't yours, pick it up anyway and throw it away. That plastic bag or discarded soda can is an immediate threat to any marine life that could get caught in it, so be sure to do your part.

6. Volunteer your time to clean up.

A group of people cleaning up the beach.
jf/Getty Images

Picking up litter while on a beach vacation is great, but you can also organize your own cleanup in your community if you live near an ocean. First, talk to local politicians and community groups to see if there's an existing ocean cleaning effort in your area. If not, go through those channels to help organize one. This is a great way to call on townspeople in your area—including friends, strangers, and local schools—to help beautify the area and teach positive habits when it comes to maintaining a cleaner ocean.

7. Donate to an ocean charity.

A person holding a sea turtle
iStock

Not everyone lives near an ocean to help do the legwork, but a simple donation can go a long way. Research charities in your state or around the country that help clean the ocean and see if they're holding a fundraiser or collecting supplies for a cleanup effort.

In addition to donating to cleanup charities, there are also ways to give money to research efforts, conservation groups, and educational foundations.

8. Watch what you flush.

Using a plunger on a backed-up toilet.
iStock

Medicines have been detected in groundwater and in marine life in the past, likely from being flushed and lingering in water systems afterwards. And 4500 wet wipes were found in a 154 square-meter portion of the Thames river in 2017—a byproduct of a bathroom staple that doesn't break down in the flushing process like people think.

These are just two examples of products that are often flushed or poured down a drain without a second thought but could build up over time and pollute local waterways, soil, and oceans. Cotton balls, floss, cat litter, insecticides, vegetable oil, paint—this is just a snapshot of products that are harmful for oceans and marine life if flushed. So next time you open that toilet lid to discard a harsh cleaning agent, find out if it's safe.

9. Conserve water.

Sprinkler system spraying water.
iStock

Any of the water you use in your home is later sent to a sewage treatment plant [PDF] where the pollutants are removed before being reintroduced into local bodies of water. The problems come not only when harmful products and chemicals are flushed, but also when we simply use too much of the available water.

As the Surfrider Foundation points out, excess water at these treatments plants can overwhelm the systems—many of which are older anyway—leading to pollutants getting through and finding their way into oceans, rivers, streams, etc. To do your part, simply conserve the use of water in your home. Take shorter showers, don't leave sinks running, and cut down on any superfluous activities like washing your car for long periods of time.

10. Don't throw anything overboard.

A bottle floating in an ocean
iStock

Whether you're out on a cruise or fishing on a lake, be mindful of what you leave behind. Never throw any trash overboard, even if you think it's harmless, like a stray fishing hook or line, or something small like a used piece of chewing gum or a cigarette butt. There's a ripple effect to any foreign item that enters a waterway, and often the consequence is that those tiny items amass into a large problem for the local ecosystem. Encourage those around you to be similarly mindful, and take proactive measures to ensure garbage and recycling bins are onboard during your trip.

11. Watch what you eat.

A plate of seafood.
AlexRaths/iStock, Getty Images Plus

Being a responsible seafood consumer is a vital part of ocean conservation, and knowing what fish you're eating and where it's coming from is a big part of that. Familiarize yourself [PDF] with the fish you buy and where it was caught when you pick out your next meal, and ask your local supermarket chain or restaurant if their selection of seafood has been farmed in an ethical way that protects the ocean's ecosystem and doesn't pollute the water in the process.

12. Reach out to your elected officials.

An offshore drilling platform
iStock

What's your state representative or governor's stance on ocean pollution and conservation? Is your state considering offshore drilling, which can result in accidents that impact the environment? Find out what the politicians in your state are doing about the environment and see if it's a plan that will provide a cleaner ocean for future generations.

If your state is in a good place, ask if there is a chance to volunteer to help realize the goals of your elected officials. If your state isn't doing enough about the oceans, write letters and get in contact with both elected officials and local environmental clubs of influence. For instance, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recently voted to protect approximately 140,000 square miles of ocean from bottom trawling, a move that will prevent commercial fishing nets from harming coral and rocky reefs in that area. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, who were also involved, this vote was a result of five years worth of research and lobbying from environmental groups and charities, and thousands of letters from activists and concerned citizens.

13. Keep up-to-date on the latest environmental news.

A person reading the news on their phone.
iStock

Taking care of oceans and waterways requires vigilance, and staying informed is vital to that cause. Read up on the latest products that have been deemed harmful to the ocean or environment (like this recent study on why black plastic can't be recycled the same way as other plastics); keep an eye out for any environmental tragedy, like an oil spill or a tropical storm in your area that requires a cleanup; and be sure you're in the know about any organized rallies or fundraisers you can take part in.

14. Understand your carbon footprint.

Car exhaust emitting smoke.
iStock

Carbon dioxide isn't just responsible for pollution in the air—it also makes its way into the ocean. In fact, about a third of manmade CO2 makes its way into the ocean, which equates to about 22 million tons a day. This can cause acidification of the water, which affects the health of the marine life—especially shelled animals—that live there.

Taking stock of your own carbon footprint is important, and it becomes even more urgent when you think of the impact it has on everything. Climate change is all connected with one danger leading to another, leading to another, and so on. See how your energy habits can be more sustainable for the environment and make some much-needed adjustments. Simply driving less, buying energy efficient lights and appliances, and using fewer disposable goods can help.

15. Share what you know with friends and family.

Trash on the beach
iStock

Don't keep all this knowledge to yourself! Bring up some of the more important facts to friends and family next time you're at the beach or out at a seafood restaurant. Invite them to join you for a cleanup, and encourage them to be mindful of their own carbon footprint. Your enthusiasm for healthy oceans and environments could be contagious, and you may soon find yourself with a network of like-minded individuals looking to make a difference.

15 Easy Ways You Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

iStock/Zinkevych
iStock/Zinkevych

Imagine a landmass the size of the entire continent of Africa burning as a massive forest fire for an entire year. Such an enormous fire would release nearly 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—the same amount that human activity produces every year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2015 numbers. The scale at which we're pumping out CO2 is alarming, and it is all serving to trap heat on the planet and fuel climate change. Fortunately, there are small, easy steps everyone can take to reduce their personal carbon footprint (which you can calculate here).

1. Skip the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich …

Breakfast sandwich on table.
iStock/LauriPatterson

Your breakfast sandwich, while delicious, isn't eco-friendly. Livestock consume a lot of resources and release the greenhouse gas methane into the environment every time they burp and fart—which means animal products come at a high environmental cost. Add the toll that transporting and packaging the ingredients takes on the environment, and the average bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich comes out to about 1441 grams CO2 equivalent (a unit that measures global warming potential). For comparison, driving a car four miles produces about 1650 grams CO2 equivalent. Maybe grab some locally grown fruit the next time you're looking for a portable morning bite.

2. … and the grass-fed beef.

Cow in pasture.
iStock/VLIET

Grass-fed beef has been embraced by the organic food movement, leading some people to believe it's the better choice for the environment. But a 2017 report released by Oxford's Food Climate Research Network shows this isn't the case: Grass-fed cattle only accounts for 1 gram of protein, per person, per day, compared to 13 grams from all ruminants, which includes cows, sheep, and goats. Despite this, grass-fed cattle still contribute one-third of all the greenhouse gases produced by ruminants—and the carbon-absorbing pastures they graze in don't do much to offset that. But grain-fed, factory-farmed meat isn't much better for the environment, and it comes with a whole different set of concerns, so a better option is to cut meat from your diet where you can.

3. when you Fly, book coach seats.

Plane flying above the clouds.
iStock/den-belitsky

Traveling somewhere by plane is the quickest way to expand your carbon footprint. Just one round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles produces about a fifth of the emissions your car creates in a year. The best option for the environment is to fly less or not at all, but this is unrealistic for some people. An alternative is to book your seats in coach. Because they're allotted less space, and therefore require less fuel, passengers flying economy are linked to three times fewer emissions than those flying in business class. Look at first class and the difference is even more dramatic: Those flyers account for nine times the carbon emissions of passengers in coach.

4. Shop for clothes at second-hand stores.

Browsing at a thrift store.
iStock/lechatnoir

Next time you have a moment alone, check the tags of the clothes you have on. Unless you're a mindful shopper, your wardrobe likely crossed thousands of miles before ending up in your possession. The resources that go into making a single garment also add up: According to a report from Dame Ellen MacArthur's foundation, the fashion industry produces 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Fortunately, there's an alternative to buying clothes from major chains that doesn't involve joining a nudist colony. Next time you need to replenish your closet, head to a second-hand store. Buying gently used clothing is better for the environment, and many thrift stores donate part of the proceeds to charitable causes.

5. Ride a Bike.

Biking next to a car on the road.
iStock/DragonImages

It's easy to see how biking can reduce your carbon footprint. While the typical passenger car releases about 404 grams of CO2 per mile, a bicycle emits zero. If you live in a bikeable city or in an area with mild weather year-round, a bike is a worthwhile investment. Even if a bike can't replace your car completely, for shorter trips it's a great way to be gentle on the environment while saving gas money and getting a cardio workout at the same time.

6. Turn down your thermostat.

Hand turning down the thermostat.
iStock/BanksPhotos

Heating your home in the winter is expensive, and it can also be a major contributor to your carbon footprint. Do the planet and your wallet a favor and turn down the thermostat by a degree or two when you're in the house. At night you should turn the heat down even lower, and when you're away you should turn it off altogether. Investing in a smart thermostat that senses when you're in the house and adjusts itself is another way to reduce your carbon emissions.

7. Hang your clothes to dry instead of using a dryer.

Clothes hanging up on clothesline.
iStock/druvo

If you have the yard space for a clothesline, take advantage of it. According to The Guardian, a household that uses a dryer 200 times a year could shrink its carbon footprint by roughly half a ton of CO2 by air-drying laundry instead. Even if you don't have the option to use a clothesline year-round, avoiding the dryer for just half your loads would make a difference.

8. Unplug the appliances when you're not using them.

Hand unplugging plug from socket.
iStock/Toa55

Just because an appliance is turned off doesn't mean it isn't consuming energy. According to How Stuff Works, the "phantom energy" zapped up by electronics that stay plugged into an outlet around the clock can account for 10 percent of your electric bill (which, if you factor it out, would be more than a free month's worth of electricity each year). If you can't stand plugging and unplugging every gadget around your home all day, try leaving appliances you don't use on a daily basis, like toasters, desk lamps, etc., unplugged and only power them up when you need them.

9. Reuse items whenever you can.

Cloth bags filled with groceries.
iStock/McIninch

Every piece of waste you toss in the garbage adds to your carbon footprint. You may not be able to bring your trash production down to nothing, but you can reduce it by investing in non-disposable goods that can withstand a bit of wear and tear. Reuseable shopping bags, food storage containers, coffee cups, and straws can replace many of the items that are often thrown away every day.

10. Switch out your old light bulbs for energy-saving ones.

Line of light bulbs against wall.
iStock/masterzphotois

If you still use incandescent bulbs to light your home, it's time to make a change. Incandescents use electricity inefficiently, adding money to your electricity bill and your home cooling expenses, thanks to the excess heat they generate. Energy Star-qualified light bulbs like CFLs (compact fluorescents) and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are more energy-efficient than the average light bulb and last six times as long. If every household in America swapped just one regular light bulb for one of these options, we could reduce CO2 emissions by 9 billion pounds.

11. Carpool with your work buds.

Man and woman sitting in front seats of a car.
iStock/Zinkevych

For trips where biking isn't an option, see if you can find a friend. Car travel isn't great for the environment, but hitching a ride with someone going the same direction as you makes a much smaller impact than driving alone. Next time you're at work, look around the office for potential carpool buddies. And before your next night out with friends, suggest a system that doesn't involve everyone coming in a separate car.

12. Wash your clothes in cold water.

Adjusting settings on a washing machine.
iStock/spyderskidoo

One way to make your electric laundry machine a little gentler on the environment is to switch on the cold water setting. That simple change can reduce your washer's carbon emissions by 75 percent and save you $60 for every 300 loads of laundry you clean. And for lightly soiled clothing, cold water sanitizes just as well as a warm wash.

13. Use curtains for temperature control.

Woman opening curtains.
iStock/monkeybusinessimages

Curtains aren't just there for privacy—throughout the year, they can help lower your energy consumption. When the sun is hitting the house, keep your windows clear in the winter to take advantage of that free heat source, and close them during peak daylight hours during the summer (especially when you aren't at home). On winter nights, conserve energy by drawing your curtains closed and blocking the heat inside from leaking out, and either open your windows at night for a fresh breeze or close your curtains to keep the air conditioning in during the warmer months. Keep up these habits year-round and you'll see the difference in your heating and cooling bills.

14. Take shorter showers.

Woman washing her hair in the shower.
iStock/skynesher

You don't need to deprive yourself of the pleasure of a hot shower to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle. According to Mother Jones, we would save 20.9 billion pounds of CO2 a year if we all shaved one minute off our shower sessions. If that change sounds easy for you, try taking the five-minute shower challenge for a week or two.

15. Plant a tree.

Parent and child planting a tree.
iStock/max-kegfire

One of the easiest ways to take care of the planet is also the most fun. Set aside an afternoon to plant a tree in your backyard and the benefits will last its whole life. A young tree absorbs roughly 13 pounds of CO2 per year and a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds. After 40 years, a tree will have sequestered 1 ton of carbon that would have otherwise contributed to global warming.

This list first ran in 2018 and was republished in 2019.

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