Young Montreal environmentalists call on McDonald's to clean up its act

A pair of Grade 3 students at Étoile Filante school in Montreal's NDG district sent a letter and their own packaging prototypes to the corporate giant, urging the fast-food chain to reduce waste.

Pair of Grade 3 students sent letter and prototypes to fast-food chain, urging corporate giant to reduce waste

Arthur Bélanger and Félix Dionne, who go to Étoile Filante school in NDG, came up with examples of less wasteful 'to go' and 'eat here' packaging for McDonald's. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Imagine a world where people drive through or walk into a fast-food location and walk away without bags stuffed with cardboard cartons, plastic straws and non-recyclable drink containers.

Two young environmentalists are urging McDonald's Canada to rise to that challenge and reduce the amount of garbage its restaurants create.

"The food is good," said nine-year-old Félix Dionne. "But it's too much waste."

Dionne and his fellow Grade 3 student, Arthur Bélanger, eight, go to Étoile Filante school in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood.

They admit their parents don't take them out for Happy Meals too often — but the boys say they've seen birds eat straws, and that troubles them.

"The plastic is not good," said Bélanger. "I see the garbage can: they have a big, big, big, big, big garbage."

That's why the two boys wrote a letter and sent it to McDonald's Canada this week, along with sketches of packaging prototypes the boys think could reduce waste and help save the planet.

McGill student teacher Chama Laassassy, who supervised the project, helps Félix, centre, and Arthur prepare their letter to the McDonald's Canada head office. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Bélanger and Dionne came up with examples of packaging, depending on whether a meal is "to go" or "eat here."

They recommend the restaurant offer take-out orders served in one big box with separate compartments for fries, drinks and burgers, rather than having each food item separately wrapped.

Watch the the two students read their letter to McDonald's

Watch Arthur Bélanger and Félix Dionne explain how their prototypes would create less waste. 1:03

For those looking to dine in, meals could also be served in one container with several compartments, but people would be asked to bring their own cup. If they don't have one, the company would offer a reusable cup with no plastic lid.

Bélanger and Dionne would also like McDonald's to ban the use of plastic straws and eliminate plastic packaging for Happy Meal toys — or scrap the plastic toys altogether.

"The kids may be disappointed, but I am sure they prefer a healthy planet," says Dionne.

Project part of English club

The boys' determination to clean the planet was part of project-based learning at their English club at the alternative French-language school they attend.  

The club meets once a week, giving students an opportunity to improve their English skills.  

The students worked on their projects for four weeks, then presented them to their peers, teachers and parents.

"The best projects are ones with real-life application because it really motivates the kids," says parent Philippa Parks, who is also is a teacher educator in the teaching of English as a second language (TESL).

"I can see them using English — and being happier about it," says Parks.

Félix Dionne, nine, holds the letter he and Arthur Bélanger, eight, sent to McDonald's Canada, urging them to reduce waste.

McGill student teacher Chama Laassassy, who supervised Bélanger and Dionne's project, planted the seed about excessive waste at McDonald's.

The boys took over and came up with their prototypes.

Laassassy also suggested the boys put their concerns on paper.

"I said, 'Well, let's just write it and see what happens,'" said Laassassy. "They wanted to mail it. I'm super impressed."

The one-page letter is written in pencil.  

In it, the boys stress their prototype packaging is sustainable and express their concerns about plastic straws hurting sea animals and birds.

They ask the company to "consider saving the planet," because 45 million people go to McDonald's every day.

Every day, 45 million people visit a McDonald's somewhere in the world. Félix and Arthur would like to see the fast-food chain come up with ways to produce less waste. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

McDonald's responds

McDonald's issued a statement, saying how impressed it is by the activism of the two young environmentalists.

"It's encouraging to see students like Arthur and Félix who are part of the next generation of leaders," said Ryma Boussoufa, McDonald's external communications manager of corporate relations.

The fast-food chain said last year it committed to source 100 per cent of packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.

Boussoufa said the majority of its packaging is fibre-based, although about 20 per cent is plastic, due to its functionality, food safety and convenience. She said the corporation is looking at a number of packaging innovations and reduction practices to reach its goal.

The company is looking forward to reading Arthur and Félix's letter and would welcome them to any one of their restaurants to discuss the topic further.

Bélanger and Dionne never expected McDonald's to open their brown envelope.

The boys just feel proud they did their part.

"I just want to save the planet," says Dionne.


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