A few months after celebrating the Happy Meal’s 40th anniversary by resurrecting some of its most popular toys, McDonald’s UK has announced that it will be eliminating plastic toys altogether in the the UK and Ireland.
Starting in 2021, McDonald’s restaurants across the pond will swap out a hard plastic non-sustainable toy with either a soft toy, a paper-based toy, or an optional book. The company said the move would eliminate more than 3,000 metric tons of potential plastic waste. And starting this month, McDonald’s will be testing paper packaging for Happy Meal toys and books instead of plastic cellophane, which will further reduce plastic waste by an additional 200 metric tons.
The announcement comes after several campaigns encouraged the fast food giant to find ways to reduce its environmental footprint. That includes a Change.org petition started by two young girls wanting McDonald’s to stop giving away plastic toys with its kids meals, which has collected over 568,000 signatures to-date.
Beyond reducing plastic it’s giving out, McDonald’s in the UK also plans to take back of the plastic already in the wild. The company announced it will be installing collection boxes for used and unwanted Happy Meal toys that customers can drop off. The toys will be recycled, and the regenerated plastic will be used to build playground equipment for Ronald McDonald House Charities based in the UK and Ireland.
McDonald’s restaurants in countries like Canada already offer book alternatives to Happy Meal toys. While these localised initiatives are a solid start, the UK and Ireland have a little over 1,300 restaurants at the moment. At a global level, there are over 37,800 McDonald’s restaurants around the world. Cutting down plastic toys and other waste are really needed at that level to really make a dent.
Single-use plastic waste is just one of many unfortunate side effects of fast food chains like McDonald’s specifically targeting children with special meals that include toys and collectibles. The next step after that will be to eliminate the Happy Meal altogether and encourage families (and kids) to seek out healthier alternatives when dining out.