How does fast food impact the environment?

The rise of fast food is one of the main culprits behind the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other serious illnesses of the modern world. Not only does fast food destroy our health, it is also slowly killing us by accelerating climate change.

Fuel consumption

Around 19% of total energy consumed in the US is used for producing and supplying food. Since most of this energy comes from non-renewable sources of energy it is imperative to look for ways to reduce fuel consumption. Energy consumption could be reduced by around 50% by adopting traditional farming and accepting a healthier diet pattern. The energy needed to produce processed foods is much higher than the amount needed to produce staple foods. Reducing fast food consumption consequently reduces fuel consumption and helps improve your health.

Packaging waste

Fast food restaurants and distributors use a lot of packaging. Wrappers, straws, boxes, bags and other fast food packaging count for approximately 40% of all litter with Styrofoam (which takes 900 years to breakdown) being the most common waste.

Fast food waste

According to the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, on average, diners leave 17% of their meals uneaten and 55% of edible leftovers are left at the restaurant. A survey from 1995 found that many restaurants don’t donate food due to liability issues. They were primarily concerned with what would happen if people got sick after eating the donated food. In the recent years, curb side pickup programs take unused food from restaurants and use them to produce profitable compost. However, according to a report published by the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, only 6.7% of the solid waste used for manufacturing compost consists of unused food.

Carbon footprint

A considerable amount of greenhouse gas emissions is produced by growing, breeding and raising livestock, farming, processing, storing, packaging, transporting, preparing and disposing of the food we eat. Approximately 37% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the food industry.

Water contamination

Freshwater quality has decreased dramatically because hormones, drugs, fertilizers and other pathogens (used in the production of fast food) are leaking into our water supplies. The fast food industry is also partly responsible for outbreaks of waterborne illness (such as E. Coli), marine dead zones, and many other issues.

Emission of VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals with a high vapor pressure at normal room temperature (both human-made and naturally occurring). According to recent studies, the grilling of just four burgers in a fast food restaurant releases the same amount of VOCs as a car driven for 1,000 miles. Another study conducted in New Jersey revealed that 16,000 restaurants let as much as 2,226 tons of particulates out into the air.

Giving up fast food seems almost impossible but preparing your meals at home and choosing healthful alternatives can improve both your health and the environment.

[1] Ecofriend. How eating junk food threatens the environment and how not to – Ecofriend. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jan. 2020].

[2] FoodPrint. Food Waste Is a Massive Problem—Here’s Why | FoodPrint. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jan. 2020].