Nature and Biodiversity

McDonald's UK restaurants are banning plastic straws

Plastic straws can be seen at a McDonald's restaurant, after it was revealed that they are to replace their plastic straws with paper ones in UK and Ireland restaurants, in London, Britain, June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The UK alone uses around 8.5 billion single-use plastic straws each year. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Tessa Love
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Straws may be a small accessory to our on-the-go lifestyles, but this little piece of plastic has a big impact on the environment. Every day, humans produce and use 500,000,000 straws—and virtually every one of those straws ends up in a landfill, or as the next piece of plastic clogging our waterways, where they take 200 years to decompose, leaching toxins into the environment. All so we can easily sip our sodas. Which is why McDonald's is taking a big step towards eradicating this issue: Starting in May, all UK McDonald's locations will be plastic straw-free.

The UK discards the most plastic straws per year. Image: Statista

The fast food giant has around 1,300 restaurants in the UK, which will all begin testing the use of paper straws instead of plastic. The straws will also be kept behind the counter and only given to customers who ask for one, further reducing the waste produced by our straw habits.

"The reduction and use of plastics is an hugely important issue – for our business, for the sector and for society," chief executive Paul Pomroy told Metro. "We are committed to reducing our environmental impact and we can, and want to, be part of the solution... we know more can be done."

The plastic straws that McDonald’s currently uses are already recyclable, but the company says it is responding to the rising disapproval of their use by the public. The UK alone uses around 8.5 billion single-use plastic straws each year, and straws are one of the top 10 pieces of debris found on beaches around the world every year. In fact, over the past 25 years, over 6 million straws have been collected from beaches during annual cleaning events.

Paper straws, on the other hand, are compostable and biodegradable, and may require less energy and release fewer toxins in the process of producing them.

McDonald’s joins a growing list of restaurants, start-ups, cities, and even royal families that are working to eliminate the tyranny of the plastic straw. In the UK specifically, restaurant chains Wetherspoons and Pizza Express have ditched the accessory, and the Queen of England herself banned the use of plastic straws and bottles from her estates earlier this year. Additionally, the UKL announced plans to eliminate avoidable plastic waste altogether in the next 25 years, putting McDonald's ahead of the curve.

Stateside, a number of cities across the country have also passed laws to limit or ban the use of plastic straws, including Portland, Malibu, Seattle, Davis, San Luis Obispo, Miami Beach, and Fort Myers. And companies are working on creative methods to replace the plastic straw—Lolistraw, for example, makes colorful and fun edible straws made from algae. In other words, the trend on the rise, and McDonald's is getting on board in a big way.

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