A trip through the drive-thru at a McDonald’s restaurant in Gainesville is also a journey through a natural habitat meant to help control pollution from idling car engines.
“I hated carbon dioxide, but I never did anything about it until Margaret came along,” said Bob Swoszowski, owner of McDonald’s restaurants throughout the Hall County area, recalling industrial pollution from his youth in Philadelphia.
Swoszowski has teamed up with Margaret Rasmussen of the Redbud Project, a local environmental conservation group, in planting emissions-fighting trees, shrubs and perennials at the drive-thru at the McDonald’s at 2501 Thompson Bridge Road.
The landscape includes muhly grass, goldenrod flowers, yaupon holly, eastern redbud trees, sweetbay magnolia trees and Carolina jessamine flowers.
Swoszowski was happy to make the change. Landscaping that was at the drive-thru was “grim,” he said.
“We needed to redo our plants. They had gotten old and antiquated and just not attractive any more,” he said.
The restaurant’s drive-thru makes up 82% of business at the McDonald’s, with customers idling engines for up to 10 minutes, according to a press release about the effort.
The number of drive-thru customers has grown since the COVID-19 pandemic, Swoszowski said.
The landscape acts as “the ecosystem’s liver, capturing small particle emissions and gases to keep them out of the atmosphere to maintain acceptable air quality index,” the release says.
“Understory trees, medium-size shrubs and low-growing perennials have been selected for maximum ability to sequester exhaust emissions. Deciduous understory trees combine with evergreens to balance the atmosphere of the habitat.”
Also, the release says, low-growing perennials fill in around the trees and shrubs “to sequester the pollution before it settles on to the impermeable asphalt to be washed away as stormwater into the sewer system on its way to the city’s water resources.”
“What we’ve done back there is a model,” Rasmussen said. “All the plants that were put in are very scientifically selected.”
“I’m not a tree hugger, but I’m not a bulldozer lover either,” Swoszowski said. “What we want is a balanced environment. My purpose is to educate people that the environment can be controlled, and we just want to do our part.”.