Auburn, Alabama. I'VE ALWAYS admired McDonald's. It put restaurant dining within the reach of the average American and made cross-country travel less of a culinary roulette. But these days, the gold on those arches is looking a little bit green.
For 15 years, McDonald's put its hamburgers in Styrofoam boxes, and no wonder. The containers kept the food hot, clean and dry, and the foam even absorbed grease.
Styrofoam was a wonderful invention, as anyone who has ever held a paper cup of hot coffee can testify. Light, strong, cheap and insulating, Styrofoam was a consumer godsend. So naturally, the environmentalists -- whose declared enemy is the consumer society -- despised it.
The Environmental Defense Fund persuaded McDonald's to ban Styrofoam as ''bad for the environment.'' By this, they do not mean the customers' environment, since paper leaves a hamburger cold and soggy much more quickly than Styrofoam.
The environmentalists say that Styrofoam doesn't biodegrade. But so what? Rocks don't biodegrade either. Why should we mind Styrofoam buried under our feet any more than we do rocks? Because Styrofoam is man-made, and therefore evil. But aren't our landfills filling up? Yes, and that's what they're supposed to do. That's where they get that name. But environmentalists have sabotaged new landfill permits. That is the ''garbage crisis.''
But Styrofoam only takes up 0.5 percent of landfills, garbage archaeologist William J. Rathje of the University of Arizona said.
Non-ecological factors, however, may be at work. Edward H. Rensi, president of McDonald's U.S.A., said that the company can ''switch to paper and save money.'' And if the customers don't like it? What are you, a spotted-owl murderer?
But McDonald's may not be getting off so easily. The Audubon Society criticizes the deal, saying that ''a lot more paper means a lot more pollution.''
I guess the environmentalists won't be satisfied until McDonald's slaps the burger directly onto our outstretched hand. If it is a burger. An agreement with the animal-rights movement may be next. Anyone for a McTofu?
L Mr. Rockwell is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.