McDonald's Pursues Two Activists In Four-Year-Old Libel Lawsuit

Solid Waste Report, March 3, 1995

McDonald's Corp. is pursuing a trial against two Greenpeace activists who claim the company is involved in a fraudulent recycling scheme.

In September 1990, McDonald's sued Dave Morris and Helen Steel, activists with London Greenpeace, for producing and distributing a leaflet titled "What's Wrong With McDonald's."

The pamphlet alleged the fast-food giant uses wasteful and excessive packaging for its food, damages the environment, contributes to diet -related disease and exploits children to sell unhealthy products.

Nearly four years later in August 1994, the so-called " McLibel" trial reached the United Kingdom's High Court. As many as 180 witnesses from the United Kingdom will testify. Steel and Morris will defend themselves and have filed a countersuit for libel because McDonald's posted leaflets in its stores saying the two circulated lies.

McDonald's Chief Purchasing Officer and Senior Vice President for the United Kingdom and Ireland Edward Oakley testified that materials the company claimed were recycled actually were landfilled. Of 550 stores in the United Kingdom, McDonald's regularly recycled polystyrene packaging from only five stores, Oakley said.

"I can see (landfilling) to be a benefit, otherwise you will end up with lots of vast, empty gravel pits all over the country," Oakley said.

A recycling initiative in a Nottingham McDonald's included McFact cards, which claimed polystyrene packaging was separated for recycling into insulation material and other goods. But Oakley admitted none of the material was recycled.

If 1 million McDonald's customers each bought a soft drink, not more than 150 cups would end up as litter, testified Paul Preston, president of McDonald's in the United Kingdom. Greenpeace's Steel and Morris, however, read an article that quoted Preston as saying litter is the source of most complaints against the company. Styrofoam packaging is less damaging to the environment than using plates and silverware, Preston testified.

"You would certainly pollute the air through cleaning and washing reusables," McDonald's Oakley said from the witness stand. "So, I think in balance take-away packaging is better." Steel and Morris contend if landfilling is McDonald's preferred method of waste disposal, it should notify its customers.

In the United States, McDonald's just joined the Environmental Defense Fund in asking consumers to buy recycled goods and to support recycling markets. McDonald's also said it has spent $1 billion on recycled products for use in its U.S. restaurants.

McDonald's has 14,000 restaurants around the world, including 9,600 in the United States. McContact: Becky Caruso, McDonald's, (708) 575-3678.

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