Return to Sender (revisited)
Since I couldn't hope to find the anonymous idiot that pitched the stuff in the street, I decided to do the next best thing. I called the nearest Burger King restaurant and asked to speak to the manager. I told her that I had found something that belonged to her store, and asked if someone could please come and pick it up. She wondered exactly what it was, so I told her.
She said, "Just because our name's on it, doesn't mean that it's our responsibility."
I am quite sure that the employee who made that statement had no idea how profound it really was. The majority of the garbage that makes its way into ditches along our roads is either fast food leftovers or beverage containers. The cheap, disposal nature of carryout packaging has made the entire fast food industry possible. The same can be said for the soft drink industry. They both benefit from the disposability of these items, and yet they appear to bear no responsibility for them.
More importantly, they don't seem to care. This is the point that I find so interesting. The fast food and soft drink industries spend billions of dollars every year on advertising and promotion. These companies aren't just selling products. They engage some of the brightest minds in advertising to help sell an image. What is so astounding is that none of these marketing geniuses has made the connection between that carefully crafted image and what happens to it when it ends up squashed in a ditch or smeared all over the road. It strikes me that this is really bad public relations.
Look on any fast food wrapper. It's unlikely that will you find the words, "Please don't litter". Ditto for pop cans and bottles and perhaps the most prolific of the ditch dwellers, coffee cups. The whole convenience food industry needs to work on educating the public about responsibly disposing of their packaging after it leaves the store. Rather than packing food into bags at the drive-thru window or take-out counter, fast food restaurants should use litterbags instead. Maybe then consumers would actually think before they roll down the window and pitch. And for food that's actually eaten inside the restaurant, reusable plates and cutlery might be a fresh idea. Tim Horton's already gives its staying customers the option of real plates and coffee mugs, so it is possible.
I was reminded of all this last when we made a rare stop for coffee at a Tim Horton's drive-thru. As we pulled away from the pick-up window, we were greeted with a sign that said, "Please be a good neighbor. Don't litter."
While most people would see this as a mark of good corporate citizenship, I found the sign offensive. Somewhere along the line both the fast food restaurants and the consumers have accepted the idea that a tremendous amount of garbage and littering is the price we have to pay for the convenience that we take for granted. It's time to re-visit that perception.
First of all, the Tim Horton's sign puts the onus for disposal on the consumer. Fast food companies, like Tim's, should be making a more concerted effort to encourage customers to use their own refillable containers, not discouraging them.
For example, on several occasions when I've presented my reusable coffee cup at McDonald's, the clerk actually poured my coffee out of a disposable cup, and then threw the cup away. The explanation: throwing away cups is the only way that the world's largest restaurant chain can keep track of how much coffee they sell. Honestly.
It's been several years since that sunny Sunday morning when Jessie found those Burger King wrappers, and things haven't gotten any better. In fact, they're much, much worst. So from here on, when I see a squashed Tim Horton's coffee cup, a flattened Coke can or Big Mac wrapper in the street, I think I'll be calling the advertised owners and asking them to come and pick up their stuff. I invite you to do the same.
WEBSITES OF THE WEEK:
Contact your favorite fast food outlet and let them know that every time one of their branded containers ends up in the ditch, they look bad: