By Ellen Kissane
Supermacs is going green and has hopped aboard the eco-train. The Irish fast food joint is ditching single-use plastics for paper straws, recyclable cups, and biodegradable burger wraps. One is reminded of the time the lesser ‘Mac’ of the fast-food world, McDonald’s, sparked an almighty wave of derision and slagging off across the internet last month, when its new paper straws were deemed unrecyclable. I would hazard a guess that this gleeful mockery was due to: a) the act being seen as a failed green-washing effort by big business to capitalize on the growing climate justice movement, or b) ‘Straws? You plan to save the planet with paper straws?!’
Make no mistake, green-washing by companies is alive and well, especially now that eco-lifestyles have gained a foothold in the mainstream, as the reality of climate breakdown becomes more apparent. Products and services often claim vague notions of ‘greenness’, which are either intentionally misleading, or else don’t fully follow through in their efforts. I once worked in a fast-food restaurant that dispensed compostable forks and knives with meals…Only there were no compost bins provided for customers, so these single-use utensils ended up in the general waste.
However, it’s a bit of a straw-man argument (sorry) to claim that anyone wanting to ban plastic straws thinks that it is the key to solving the climate crisis. It matters that businesses are finally starting to wean themselves off their plastic addiction. Are we forgetting how omnipresent plastic has been in modern times?
Somewhere along the way, plastic rooted itself into our daily lives. The start of this century saw it replace the glass milk bottle and, in 2009, it usurped Cadbury’s iconic paper and gold foil wrapping (the reason for which still eludes me – who in their right minds ‘re-seals’ a Dairy Milk bar instead of scoffing it all in one sitting?). Supermarkets are teeming with the stuff. There’s no chance of exiting the store without your groceries accompanied by unwanted reams of single-use plastic wrapping that is now your responsibility to dispose of.
Therein lies the problem. We are told time and time again that we must be ‘conscious consumers’ if we want to help the environment. This would be perfectly reasonable if convenient and affordable sustainable alternatives were incentivized and freely available. For those of us who do care, navigating the minefield of sourcing hard-to-come-by and often more expensive eco-friendly options, and deciphering what truly is recyclable/compostable (plastic infused teabags, anyone?) can easily feel like a burden.
However, seeing these plastic-free alternatives reach the mainstream in fast food giants like Supermacs is cause for celebration. Lest we forget, it was the college students of Ireland who led the charge against single-use plastics in this country, with initiatives taking off in universities last year. Businesses followed suit. Supermacs’ gesture is a symbol of that small victory of correcting harmful industry wrongdoings. We now have a wider range of outlets to avail of groceries and personal items, without the curse of plastic trailing us behind – the newly opened The Filling Station springs to mind. Shops of its ilk seem such a practical and obvious solution that one wonders why it wasn’t thought of before, but these zero-waste havens speak of our shifting attitudes to waste.
Yes, plastic is only part of the problem, and straws only part of that. But in this shift, spurred by young people, lies the blueprint for our generation, to quote a great lady, “to redeem the work of fools” who left us this legacy.