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Wednesday, 10 March 2010 02:35

Idling at fast-food drive thrus degrade air

The exhaust fumes from idling cars waiting at fast-food drive-thru lanes produce plenty of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. We're polluting our environment for the convenience of not having to walk inside. Do you want some guilt with that order of fries? Read on!

Maybe you don't think this a big deal'”idling your car while waiting for your drive-thru order at a fast-food joint'”because only a few minutes are spent waiting for your order to be taken, processed, and handed to you.

In fact, you might say to yourself that you are not really polluting the air because cars today are much more efficient at reducing air pollutants coming out of their exhaust pipes than cars of the past.

That is true for most pollutants, but it is not true of all pollutants that you, me, and our children breathe in and out each day of our lives.

According to the article 'Idle Reduction' by the Division of Air Quality, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, when comparing cars built thirty years ago to new cars manufactured today, the cars built in the 2000s generate ''¦ 98 percent fewer hydrocarbons, 96 percent less carbon monoxide and 90 percent fewer nitrogen oxides.'

However, as it was thirty years ago, every gallon of gasoline burned in motorized vehicles--yesterday and today (there is no difference)--produces about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of carbon dioxide (CO2), along with smaller amounts of the air pollutants methane and nitrogen dioxide.

Further, the article 'Fast Food Nation Frustration,' states, 'It takes about 8000 litres of air, weighing almost 12 kg, to burn one litre of gasoline or diesel. Furthermore, for every litre of petrol you burn, you emit 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide.'

In order to convert these statistics to units that are needed later on in this article, each of the above values were divided by 22.62; thus, maintaining their consistency.

So, equivalently, it takes about 93 gallons (354 liters) of air, with a weight of about 1.17 pounds (0.53 kilograms), to burn 0.01167 gallon (0.0442 liter) of gasoline or diesel. [Statistics: "Weight of one gallon of air"]

That is, about 1.5 fluid ounces of gasoline is burned (this amount is approximately equal to 0.0442 liter).

So, for each 0.01167 gallon (0.0442 liter) of gasoline burned (again, about 1.5 fluid ounce of gasoline), the average car in the United States emits about 0.24 pound (0.11 kilogram) of carbon dioxide. [Statistics: 'Fast Food Nation Frustration' (11.11.2009)]

That is, when you burn 1.5 ounce of gasoline, you put about 0.24 pound of carbon dioxide into the air.

Page two continues more statistics that show just how bad idling of cars at fast-food drive thrus really is to the health (and the pocketbooks) of all Americans.

According to the Sierra Club article 'How Bad IS the Drive-Through?,' 'Every hour you idle, you waste up to 0.7 gallons of gas (depending on your engine type) going nowhere.'

Now, divide this figure (0.7 gallon) by 60, to go from one hour to one minute (one hour equals 60 minutes).

Thus, paraphrasing the Sierra Club article 'Every minute you go nowhere in your car'”say, when you're idling in the fast-food lane'”you waste up to 0.01167 gallon (0.04416 liter) of gas, depending on your engine type.'

Using the previous statistics, for one minute of idling your car while you wait for your fast-food order, you have put about 0.24 pound (0.11 kilogram), or about 3.8 ounces, of carbon dioxide into our air. (this ounce is a "dry ounce," different from the previous "fluid ounce")

According to the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, the average wait time at a U.S. drive-through is 'around three minutes.'

So, let's triple the previous statistic.

For three minutes of idling your car while you wait for your fast-food order, you have put about 0.729 pounds (0.3331 kilograms), or about 11.4 ounces, of carbon dioxide into our increasingly fouled air.

This equates to 11.4 ounces of carbon dioxide put into the air for your drive-thru order of a hamburger, fries, and a soft drink--isn't that a Number 2?

This may not sound like a lot of carbon dioxide, but now expand that one motorist to hundreds of thousands of motorists each day idling in fast-food drive thru lanes across the United States.

And, now, expand that further to seven days per week, and 52 weeks per year.

Page three continues with the number of total visits to fast-food drive thrus, and the idling of more and more cars.

According to the National Restaurant Association, total sales of fast-food restaurants was estimated to be $142 billion in 2007. (Statistics, see Wikipedia: 'Fast Food')

If we assume the average cost of a meal for one person to be US$5, then we have 2.84 billion visits (consisting of one person) to fast food restaurants each year.

Approximately, 60% of the people use the drive thru versus walking into the fast-food place, so there is about 1.7 billion visits to the drive thru each year (one person).

Let's now assume the average car contains two people. So, roughly 852 million visits to the drive thru occur each year.

Please remember that these statistics are rough estimates at best, but they provide an approximate estimate about how bad the problem is to the U.S. environment and our lungs when we idle our cars at fast-food joints.

So, again assuming each visit to a drive-thru takes three minutes, now multiple the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the air with each visit by 852,000,000.

Or, 852,000,000 times ["0.729 pounds (0.3331 kilograms), or about 11.4 ounces, of carbon dioxide into our air"], which equals 6.11 billion pounds (0.284 billion kilograms) of carbon dioxide is emitted into our air from all of these drive-thru visits in one year.

That is equal to about 3.1 million tons of carbon dioxide placed into our air because of motorists idling their cars at drive-thru lanes throughout the United States of America each year--we often times call her "America the Beautiful."

Page four continues with statistics on the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted into our air by drive-thru idling.

According to statistics from the article 'Drive Thru Shame on You,' car idling in the United States annually produces 93 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Of course, drivers do a lot more idling than just at drive-thru restaurants, which show why total car idling in the United States puts 93 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air, while idling cars at drive-thru lanes place about 3.1 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

So, roughly 3.3% of all the carbon dioxide emitted into the air from idling comes from waiting at fast-food drive-thrus.

These statistics are rough at best, taken from a series of articles on the Internet. However, they show that idling your car at fast-food drive-thrus adds a lot of carbon dioxide to our air.

Making our air cleaner is something that can be easily accomplished by parking your car at fast-food establishments, turning off the engine, and walking inside the restaurant.

In fact, experts state that you will save yourself money (while, at the same time, making for a cleaner environment) by turning your engine off if you are going to be idling for more than 30 seconds.

Here are some additional statistics about car idling:

According to the Sierra Club article 'How Bad IS the Drive-Through?,' '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.'

Now, this last figure is not just from idling at fast-food joints, but idling in general, say at stop lights, in traffic jams, and other drive thru lanes such as at your bank. However, do you get the basic idea that idling of your car is a waste of your money and a big contributor to the degradation of our air?

And, when you idle your car for long periods of time, you are getting 0 miles per gallon. So, if you waste 4.5 fluid ounces of gasoline for every visit to a drive-thru, then it takes about 28 visits to the drive-thru to waste one gallon of gas.

And you haven't gone anywhere except from the back of the line to the front of the line--28 times--at the fast-food place. That costs you about $2.85, for going basically no where (assuming one gallon of gas costs about $2.85, as it does around here on March 9, 2010).

So, if you go through the drive-thru once a day, you have wasted about $3 in a month, and about $36 that year.

Page five concludes with a final example from another author who is concerned with idling of cars at fast-food joints and the environmental damage it does to our environment.

Here is another example. The author of the previously mentioned story 'Drive Thru Shame on You,' published on December 8, 2009, performed an experiment at his local fast-food establishment.

Alex Bogdon writes, 'I easily tested this experiment over the course of four Saturdays in December between noon and 1 p.m., recording the time vehicles spent idling in the drive-through and the specific type of vehicle. Then, using research conducted by North Carolina State University, I determined the amount of carbon dioxide produced by each vehicle based on a four-vehicle class system.'

Bogdon continues, 'My research concluded that idling vehicles produce an average of 1.4 grams per second of carbon dioxide. Based on this information, if Steak 'N Shake were to close the drive-throughs at all of its 502 restaurants from noon to 1 p.m. for one year, it would prevent 1,682.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the earth's atmosphere.'

The Sierra Club article also states, '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.'

For additional information on a Canadian city that is thinking about banning idling cars at drive throughs, please go to The New York Times article "Battle over drive through idling."

For an article that debates whether parking lots or drive thrus is more damaging to the environment, please go to the National Post article "The real cost of a doughnut."

Of course, there is always another side to any story. You decide which side to believe, or whether to believe any side. You have that choice in the United States.

In any case, I'd like to see America stay Beautiful! How about you?


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