McDonald's Promises to Phase Out Plastic Happy Meal Toys by 2025

Kids will get paper games, trading cards, and bio-based toys instead.

McDonald's signs

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For forty years, fast food chain McDonald's has been serving Happy Meals to kids. These special boxed meals are known for the toys that come inside them, which children delight in using—at least for a few short minutes before they get tossed into the backseat of the car for a parent to discover weeks later. Generally made from cheap plastic, these toys are notorious for breaking easily and usually end up in landfill.

Now the company has announced a shift away from disposable plastic toys to more eco-friendly ones. McDonald's says it will "keep the fun, protect the planet," by making Happy Meal toys around the world more sustainable by 2025. These will take the form of pop-out paper figurines, board games made with plant-based or recycled game pieces, trading cards, paper coloring patterns, and toys made from bio-based materials. 

A press release states, "Making our toys out of renewable, recycled, or certified materials will result in about a 90% reduction of fossil fuel-based plastic in Happy Meal toys, from a baseline of 2018. For perspective, that’s more or less the size of the entire population of Washington, DC, eliminating plastics from their lives for a year."

McDonald's new Happy Meal toys


McDonald's knows this idea can work. Already it has been phasing out plastic toys in the UK, France, and Ireland, replacing them with soft plush toys (which tend to last longer), books, and paper-based toys, resulting in a 30% reduction in virgin plastic use. It's following in the footsteps of Burger King, which eliminated all plastic toys from kids' meals in the UK in 2019. The company has also been looking into recycling toys into restaurant trays. So far in Japan it has made trays using 10% old Happy Meal toys. 

It appears that McDonald's has paid close attention to a campaign launched by two little girls, Caitlin and Ella, several years ago. The sisters petitioned McDonald's to ditch plastic Happy Meal toys in England, and eventually received a response from the company, saying it agrees with the campaign message and will strive to do so. Now that the changes have been proven successful in the UK, they're spreading around the whole world. 

Happy Meal toys are a tiny drop in the bucket, true—and one can argue that McDonald's has plenty of other environmental challenges to address (ahem, beef)—but when you consider the scale of this company, and the fact that this tiny change amounts to the equivalent of 650,000 people not using plastic for a year, it's a small step worth celebrating.