What is the global-warming impact of the omnipresent drive-through?

February 25, 2009

Advice about recreational eating

Hey Mr. Green,
What is the global-warming impact of the omnipresent drive-through? Surely this has to be one of our biggest wastes of energy. –Robert in Biglerville, Pennsylvania

In drive-throughs or anyplace, idling is, to summon the old saying, the devil’s workshop. Every hour you idle, you waste up to 0.7 gallons of gas (depending on your engine type) going nowhere. So it pays to turn your engine off if you’re going to be still for more than 30 seconds.

In a given year, U.S. cars burn some 1.4 billion gallons of fuel just idling. Not to mention idling trucks, which waste another 1.5 billion gallons. Collectively, we emit about 58 million tons of carbon dioxide while we’re essentially doing nothing.

Taking the fast-food industry as an example, and taking into account that the average McDonald’s drive-through wait is 159 seconds, we can calculate that the company’s consumers burn some 7.25 million gallons of gas each year. The figure for the entire U.S. fast-food industry? Roughly 50 million gallons.

Though Wendy’s boasts that it zips you through in a mere 131 seconds, that’s about the amount of time it would take to slap together your own sandwich, or dump some leftovers in Tupperware, and bypass the lines (and perhaps a bypass) entirely.

The spread of American idle may be an exciting prospect for companies seeking to expand this lazy food-getting method to the rest of the world–but it’s a devastating one for the environment. Consider that McDonald’s plans to open 25 drive-throughs in China, following KFC’s lead. KFC installed its first drive-through there in 2002 and is working on 100 more. If China and India, which is also jumping aboard the drive-through bandwagon, get up to speed, they can idle away a truly staggering figure: 30 billion gallons of gas. Every year.

http://sierraclub.typepad.com/mrgreen/2009/02/advice-about-recreational-eating-.html

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