Customers ordering soft drinks at over 1,300 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK and Ireland will not be getting a plastic straw starting in September. Essentially caving to pressure from environmental groups, the leader in fast food is replacing plastic straws with ones made with eco-friendly paper.
USA Today reports that the burger joint is taking the plastic straw ban across the Atlantic as well. With over 500 million plastic straws used daily, McDonald’s plans to test new paper straws in the U.S. before the end of the year.
“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good and working to find sustainable solutions for plastic straws globally,” said Francesca DeBiase, the company’s executive vice president for global supply chain and sustainability. “We hope this work will support industry-wide change.”
McDonald’s executive Paul Pomroy says customers welcome the switch from plastic straws to paper as long as it does not impact their experience when visiting the restaurant. However, customers who really want a plastic straw will still be able to get one by asking.
SumOfUs, a conservationist group, considers plastic straws a significant ecological hazard. According to the organization, millions of straws distributed to customers by McDonald’s every day soon end up on beaches, in the water, and piled up in landfills.
Although the plastic straws can be recycled, the majority are simply used once and thrown away. The straws, which take hundreds of years to fully decompose, slowly break down into microplastics with the potential to wreak havoc on nature.
McDonald’s will begin testing new paper straws in France, Sweden, and Norway also this year. The company already implemented a unique straw solution in Malaysia – only dispensing a straw when a customer asks for one.
McDonald’s is not alone in its plastic straw ban. Fast-food company Burger King banned them in the UK earlier this year. Costa Coffee also decided to replace plastic straws with more environmentally friendly ones.
“The drive to eliminate plastic straws is a good step, and it’s symbolic — and symbols are important,” said Eric Goldstein, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, per the USA Today report. “You could say it should’ve been done earlier, but it’s certainly better late than never.”
Governments are also getting in on the plastic straw ban act. California and New York City lawmakers are considering legislation that would prohibit them. UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May announced two months ago that Parliament is also looking at enacting laws banning certain plastic products.
The eventual replacement of plastic straws by McDonald’s worldwide will hopefully reduce the amount of waste dumped into the environment. Current statistics estimate more than one million birds and 100,000 mammals die after encountering plastic waste. Alarmingly, experts predict plastic in the ocean will be more abundant than fish within the next 30 years.