One of the most iconic symbols of McDonald's — its plastic straws — is being eliminated in parts of Europe as the company looks to find alternatives throughout the world.
More than 1,300 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland will transition to paper straws next year. And the company is signaling change is on the way for the United States and the rest of the world.
“McDonald's is committed to using our scale for good and working to find sustainable solutions for plastic straws globally,” said Francesca DeBiase, executive vice president of global supply chain and sustainability, at McDonald's, in a statement.
Testing of alternatives already has begun in the United Kingdom and Belgium. That will expand to selected restaurants in the United States, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia later this year, the company said. The company also will offer straws only on request in several test markets in Malaysia.
The move to ditch plastic straws comes after McDonald's also moved away from expanded polystyrene cups. First the company ditched EPS cups for coffee and then expanded that move for cold drinks as well.
McDonald's plastic straws decision comes at a time as opposition grows in certain circles.
McDonald's straws, known for their single red stripe and single yellow stripe, are specifically designed with a wider opening than typical straws. Some believe the wider opening makes soft drinks taste better at McDonald's as more washes over the tongue than through a typical straw.
The restaurant chain did not specifically call plastic straws a problem in its June 15 announcement, but McDonald's did indicate the company is looking for “solutions that are scalable across the globe.”
Opposition to plastic straws is growing in concert with a growing awareness of plastic ocean pollution as some restaurants and suppliers have signaled moves away from them. The issue also is being debated around the country as certain municipalities outlaw them.
A ban in Seattle begins next month.
McDonald's decision will certainly have an impact as the company has more than 37,000 locations in more than 100 locations around the world. The prohibition by an industry leader also could impact other restaurants' view toward the issue.
A total of 1,361 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland are covered by the move, McDonald's said. The change is a rapid turnaround from late May, when shareholders rejected a proposal to phase out plastic straws, with less than 10 percent of them voting in favor of the move.
The decision against plastic straws at McDonald's comes after the restaurant chain previously indicated plans to have 100 percent of guest packaging come from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025. The company also plans to have guest packaging recycling available in all locations.
Environmental group Greenpeace offered this response to the move: “McDonald's straw announcement is a step in the right direction, but the fast food giant must continue to scale up its ambition and move with urgency to rid its entire global operations of plastics straws and other single-use plastic that pollutes our oceans, waterways, and communities,” said Graham Forbes, Greenpeace global plastics project leader, in a statement.