Fast-food chain, which uses 1.8m straws a day, says plastic straws will go by 2019
McDonald’s will end the use of plastic straws in its British restaurants next year, after nearly half a million people called on the company to ditch them.
The decision by the US fast-food chain to switch from plastic to paper straws follows a trial at a number of outlets in the past two months. The firm uses around 1.8m straws a day in the UK.
The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in the UK, but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide.
The Sum of Us petition calling for the change had warned that plastic straws ended up polluting the ocean, harming seabirds and marine life.
McDonald’s said it had listened to customer concerns and would begin phasing out plastic straws in September, completing the process at some point in 2019.
Paul Pomroy, the chief executive of McDonald’s UK and Ireland, said: “Reflecting the broader public debate, our customers told us they wanted to see a move on straws but to do so without compromising their overall experience when visiting our restaurants.”
The paper straws will be sourced from suppliers in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Initially, only a limited number of the chain’s restaurants will have recycling facilities for the paper straws, but the company has committed to ensuring they can be recycled at all stores by the end of 2019.
The government warned earlier this year that plastic straws, along with other single-use plastic items such as cotton buds, could be banned as part of its efforts to cut marine pollution.
McDonald’s is the latest in a string of high street names in the process of replacing plastic straws with paper or biodegradable straws, including Costa Coffee, Wetherspoons and Pizza Express.
Waitrose has said it would no longer stock them, while Pimms and other drinks at Wimbledon will be served with paper rather than plastic straws.
Other parts of McDonald’s global empire are experimenting with alternatives to plastic straws, and trials are due later this year in the US, France, Sweden and Norway.
Instead, Starbucks, which has more than 28,000 stores worldwide, will use recyclable, strawless lids on most of its iced drinks. The Frappuccino is the one exception: It will have a straw made from either paper or compostable plastic.
The plastic straw, a once ubiquitous accessory for frosty summer drinks and sugary sodas, has been falling out of favor in recent years, faced with a growing backlash over its effect on the environment.
In the United States alone, an estimated more than 500 million disposable plastic straws are used every day, according to Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit recycling organization. Although plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a recyclable plastic, most recyclers won’t accept them.
“Plastic straws are pretty small and lightweight, so when they’re going through the mechanical sorter, they’re often lost or diverted,” said Sam Athey, a plastics pollution researcher and member of the Plastic Ocean Project, a nonprofit based in Wilmington, N.C., that aims to reduce plastic use.
That means plastic straws get tossed in the garbage, ending up in landfills and polluting the ocean.
It takes “about 200 years for polypropylene plastic straws to break down under normal environmental conditions,” Ms. Athey said.
During that time, the plastic becomes brittle and breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, which can be eaten by organisms, she added.
Further complicating matters, when the plastics break down, their surface area to volume ratio increases, Ms. Athey said, “so they have the ability to attract and absorb more pollutants like BPA, which is a known endocrine disrupter.”
In areas where plastic straws are not already banned or limited, businesses like SeaWorld, McDonald’s and Alaska Airlines are taking some measures to reduce their use.
Starbucks earned $22.4 billion in annual revenue last year, making it one of the largest businesses to announce it would eliminate plastic straws.
At the beginning of July 2018, Seattle became the largest U.S. city to ban plastic straws.
They’re not alone.
Starbucks plans to phase out plastic straws by 2020. McDonald’s recently announced it will ban plastic straws at its U.K. and Ireland restaurants. Bon Appétit Management, a food service company with 1,000 U.S. locations, announced last May it will phase out plastic straws. Alaska Airlines will be one of the first airlines to phase out plastic straws and stirrers, in part thanks to an environmentally conscious girl scout.
These groups are responding to public outcry demanding action against a product that, on one hand, seems very simple—but which is harming the world’s oceans, experts warn.
In just the U.S. alone, one estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches.
Eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, and straws comprise just 0.025 percent of that.
But that hasn't stopped the straw from becoming the major focus of recent environmental campaigns. This is in part because, for most able-bodied people, the straw is something you can easily do without. Eliminating plastic straw usage rarely requires a drastic change in behavior.