I want to start out by wishing every one a Happy New Year and a Happy New Decade. It is hard to believe we have already seen the first decade of the new millennium pass by. Many things have happened in the past decade that will have an impact on how we live our lives in this decade and others to follow. I guess the defining moment was September 11, 2001. Since that day borders have become more guarded, and North America has been caught in a war in Afghanistan. We witnessed many extreme weather and environmental disasters including Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami in December 2004. There is much debate on whether these and other extreme weather patterns are in part being caused by man made environmental damage. Another thing that has shaken up the modern world in a sense, was the sudden spike of the price of fuel two years ago, which was followed by the near collapse of the economy. To start the new decade the price of oil has come down and stabilized and the economy has stabilized as well to some degree. The past ten years has also seen an increase in environmental awareness and the “go green” movement. The “go green” movement is something that will only intensify in the decade ahead as we continue to abuse our planet in an alarming way.
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, I jumped in my car and headed to the coffee shop down the street to get a coffee to go. While waiting in the drive thru line up for ten minutes it dawned on me that this was something that I should not be doing if I really want to practice what I preach. I looked around and there were close to twenty cars idling for an extended period of time all waiting to get that cup of coffee to go. That is a lot of pollution and a lot of fuel being wasted. Not only that, what happens to the disposable cups and plastic that is used? Most of it is not recycled and goes directly in the garbage afterwards. In North America and other parts of the world there are hundreds of thousands of drive thrus all built with convenience in mind. For example, a recent report by CTV news in Canada, states that in Edmonton, Alberta, the drive thrus combined in that city released 750 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in one month alone. In a year that is 9000 tonnes from a city of slightly less than a million people. Fast food restaurants and coffee shops have drive thrus for customers that want fast service without having to use too much effort. Some of these people are too lazy to even walk 50 feet to get their double burger, king sized fries and soda pop! This is a heavy burden on the environment.
Many of these restaurants don’t go far enough to encourage people to walk in instead of using the drive thru. They would rather have people use the drive thrus. Drive-thru use has been increasing across North America. There are two main reasons for their growing popularity, convenience and money. Fast food chains are in increasing competition to offer the best service, while eliminating the cost of the larger restaurant. Having smaller restaurants with the drive-thru window saves the company money because the customers don’t even have to come inside your restaurant, which is a cost when you consider seating and washrooms. Also the customer never has to leave their car and gets fast food on the go, which generally makes them happy. Even if they have to wait in line idling their cars for ten or fifteen minutes they can check emails on their cell phones or text their friends while waiting (got to love modern times). These drive-thru window services contribute to smog, emissions, noise pollution, and air pollution. They also contribute to our so-called lazy society adding to health problems, which is an ever-increasing burden on our health care systems.
Restaurant drive thrus are not the only culprits in regards to the waste we create to cater to our convenient fast paced lifestyles. We want meals to go and we want meals ready in 5 minutes, often made in only one portion. Whether we go to our favorite fast food joint or a grocery store, the amount of plastic and cardboard used to package these meals is staggering. Also, in the past few decades the consumption of bottled water has drastically increased causing a lot of plastic to be discarded. Other disposable items in our society built around convenience are disposable diapers, disposable batteries, disposable cameras, disposable razors and so many other things we use everyday. It would be unreasonable to assume we can stop using all disposable items in society, but we need to cut down on the use of them. We need to find alternatives to disposable items when possible, especially when it helps our environment and reduces waste. We all love convenience in our lives but with convenience there is often a price to pay.