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Environment

McDonald's Bans Plastic Straws in All 1,361 of Its UK Restaurants

Fast food chain McDonald’s has announced that it will be putting an end to plastic straws in all of its 1,361 outlets in UK and Ireland. 

Instead, it’ll be bringing in paper straws sourced from suppliers in Northern Ireland and Wales. 

The nationwide rollout comes after a trial of paper straws was launched at select outlets in May, and the whole process should reportedly be complete by 2019.

Take action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics

The company has also committed to making sure that the paper straws can be recycled at all stores by the end of next year. 

“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,” said Paul Pomroy, the chief executive of McDonald’s UK and Ireland.

He added that he’s “proud that we’ve been able to play our part” in the move away from plastic. 

Read more: 10 Facts About Plastic Pollution You Absolutely Need to Know

“Straws are one of those things that people feel passionately about, and rightly so,” Pomroy said during an interview with Sky News when the trial was first announced in March. 

According to Pomroy, McDonald’s is “really close” to all of its packaging being recyclable. The only items that can’t currently be recycled, he said, are the plastic drink lids — and the chain hopes to have a solution to those “within the next year.” 

During the paper straw trial, straws were also kept behind the counter so customers had to ask if they wanted one.

McDonald’s uses around 1.8 million straws every day in the UK — totaling more than 650 million every year. 

Read more: Plastic Straws, Stirrers and Cotton Buds Could Soon Be Banned in England

Across the whole of the UK, according to the Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away every year. 

That means McDonald’s accounts for about 36% of Britain’s entire plastic straw use, so its decision to switch to paper straws is a significant step. 

And it came after nearly half a million people signed a petition calling on the company to get rid of plastic straws in its restaurants.

Plastic straws are generally made from polypropylene and polystyrene, according to the BBC, and they can take hundreds of years to decompose if they aren’t recycled.

Read more: 7 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Straws to Help Save the Oceans

Environment Secretary Michael Gove described the move by McDonald’s as a “significant contribution” to helping the environment, that set a “fine example to other large businesses.”

While it won’t yet be rolling out the ban to its 36,000 restaurants worldwide, trials are reportedly planned for later in the year in the US, France, Sweden, and Norway.

The move by McDonald’s is the latest in a string of voluntary actions taken by companies to help cut down plastic pollution, after David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II” documentary earlier this year really brought home how serious the issue is. 

Other retailers that have already made the switch to paper or biodegradable straws, or have announced plans to, include Costa Coffee, Wetherspoons, Waitrose, Wagamama, and Pizza Express.

Read more: Taiwan Announces Ban on All Plastic Bags, Straws, and Utensils

Meanwhile, more than 60 British festivals — including Boardmasters and Bestival — have also banned plastic straws.  And anyone heading to Wimbledon in July should also expect to be drinking through paper straws. 

But Welsh Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has previously warned that paper straws aren’t always suitable for people with disabilities. She said that while plastic straws help many drink independently, paper or glass alternatives aren’t always suitable or safe. 

The UK government also proposed a ban on plastic straws and cotton buds in April, as part of its 25-year plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

Read more: US and Japan Refuse to Sign G7 Pact Against Plastic Pollution

The plan aims to “set the global gold standard” on ending plastic pollution, according to Gove, but environmental groups have raised concerns that the plan “lacks urgency, detail, and bite” while others have said we “can’t afford to wait” given the scale of plastic pollution. 

“If we really want to solve this problem, we need to think bigger and ultimately move towards an end to single-use plastics,” said WWF chief executive Tanya Steele. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on improving life on land and life below water, as well as creating cities and communities that are sustainable. You can join us by taking action on these issues here, including calling on governments and business leaders to say no to single-use plastics