McDonald's Takes Action on Plastic Straws

CC BY 2.0. KJ Payne

Soon, diners will have to request a straw if they want one. And it might be paper.

It is rare that we have happy news from the fast food sector, but McDonald's has made a pleasing new promise to tackle plastic waste. It appears the company is taking a two-pronged approach.

First, two test locations in London, England, will be phasing out plastic straws entirely. Starting in May this year, the straws in these two restaurants will be replaced by paper versions made with recycled content.

Second, and arguably much more importantly, all 1,300 McDonald's restaurants in the United Kingdom will start handing out straws only upon request. Paul Pomroy, head of McDonald's UK, told Sky News:

"Customers have told us that they don't want to just be given a straw, they want to have to ask for one, because straws [are] one of those things that people feel passionately about, and rightly so. We're now moving those straws behind the front counter, so if you come into McDonalds going forward, starting next month, you're going to be asked if you want a straw."

It might seem like a minuscule change, but the act of having to ask for a straw will force people to think, even for just a few seconds, about whether or not they really need such a product, and that's likely to make a dent in consumption.

Pomroy also pointed out that the fast food chain has been working toward fully-recyclable packaging. So far it's at 80 percent, and dealing with the straw issue will help address the remaining gap. No more foam or polystyrene boxes are handed out.

That being said, I wish McDonald's would rethink the contents of its Happy Meals and those infernal plastic toys that either break quickly or lack imagination and end up kicking around the house for years -- or, as fellow writer Sami pointed out to me, the dreaded balloons. And what about the plastic sachets of condiments? We know those are an enormous source of waste in Asian countries, particularly, so surely there's a better way to package them (or, rather, not package them). As I reported last fall:

"The most common trash item found on the beach was sachets, the little plastic-and-aluminum packets that are widely used in poverty-stricken areas of the world (particularly Asia) to sell food items, condiments, personal care products and toiletries, even drinking water. The minimal packaging makes items cheaper, but sachets are not recyclable. "

McDonald's isn't the only fast food chain trying to distance itself from single-use plastics. The co-founder of UK chain Leon was so horrified by trash on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia that he "vowed to come back and make a dramatic contribution to end this madness." Grocery store Iceland has stopped selling straws, and Pizza Express and Wetherspoon have plans to phase them out.

Wouldn't it be wonderful for our grandchildren to grow up in a world where straws don't exist? It's starting to look like it might be that way.