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Customer sparks outrage with photo of trash bin at local Wendy's: 'This is more common than you think'

"The problem is that people don't know …"

"The problem is that people don't know ..."

Photo Credit: iStock

It can be a relief to see recycling bins in public, especially at fast-food establishments with abundant to-go packaging materials made with paper, plastic, and aluminum. 

Unfortunately, some of these receptacles do not always provide the convenient solution they seem to offer customers.

A Reddit user in r/Vancouver posted an image of a waste bin at Wendy's with three different openings for garbage, recycling, or composting, revealing that all three chutes collect the contents into a single bin. 

"The problem is that people don't know ..."
Photo Credit: Reddit

This means all the items in the bin are likely thrown right into the trash, including recyclable materials and compostable items.

A whopping 32 billion pounds of food waste is generated in American fast-food restaurants per year, which doesn't account for waste created by to-go containers, cups, and cutlery. 

Wendy's has outlined a series of initiatives for reducing the fast-food chain's environmental impact, such as using only sustainably sourced customer-facing packaging by 2026 and reducing a set amount of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2023.

In a statement to The Cool Down, a Wendy's representative provided information regarding the steps the company has taken since the original Reddit post was made a few years ago. Included is the company's usage of modular three-stream recycling bins in Canada to avoid trash and recycling being mixed together and ensuring U.K. stores have recycling infrastructure in place. In the U.S., Wendy's launched a pilot program in Chicago in 2022 that included signs to help customers and workers learn the proper way to recycle. According to Wendy's, the program "improved diversion rate by an average of 44%" at participating locations.

"Wendy's plans to expand their sustainable packaging offerings and continue educating consumers on proper disposal using the How2Recycle® label on recyclable food packaging, and as infrastructure enhancements support sustainable disposal of packaging," according to the representative.

By taking action and starting conversations about discrepancies between corporate social responsibility statements and the day-to-day procedures in their stores, other restaurants may be motivated to implement changes that leave a more effective, lasting positive impact.

Paying attention to practices that detract from proper recycling methods, raising awareness when companies cut corners with seemingly green initiatives, composting leftover food at home, and being mindful of our methods of consumption (such as reducing our personal plastic use) are all ways in which we can all work together to create a cleaner, cooler future.

Commenters discussed the prevalence of this type of problem at various establishments and urged the forum's readers to reduce and reuse as much as possible rather than relying on recycling alone to lessen landfill waste.

"The problem is that people don't know how to recycle. I work for the park department and we used to have separate bags for recycling and trash," one Redditor reported. "Because the recycling kept being contaminated with trash and wasn't accepted by the plant, we throw the recycling bags with the trash now."

"I hate to break it to you, but this is more common than you think. Canada Line doesn't even try to hide it," another user said, linking to a picture of a transparent trash can being used for waste, bottles, and cans. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information from a Wendy's community representative about the company's new sustainability initiatives that they said have been in the process of being implemented in the time since this Reddit post was made. 

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