McDonald’s has recently admitted that the paper straws it rolled out last year in its 1,361 UK and Ireland restaurants are not recyclable. This news marks the latest PR snag for the multinational restaurant corporation’s switch from plastic to paper.
McDonald’s began replacing plastic straws with paper straws at its British and Irish restaurants in 2018, after a number of other corporations pledged to end using plastic straws. The switch to paper straws was also necessary, as the UK government passed a ban on single-use plastic straws and drink stirrers.
McDonald’s in the UK and Ireland is advising people to treat their paper straws as waste items.
Soon after switching away from plastic however, customer complaints began. People complained that the paper straws were collapsing in milkshakes, and dissolving before their drinks were finished. Photos of McDonald’s-branded drinks with bent, soggy and collapsed paper straws began spreading across social media platforms, creating a PR debacle.
McDonald’s responded to these complaints by making their paper straws thicker, however these new straws are too thick to be recycled by waste processing facilities. McDonald’s announced that it is working with its waste management providers to properly recycle its paper straws, as it did with its paper cups. Until then, however, McDonald’s in the UK and Ireland is advising people to throw their paper straws in the trash.
Single-use plastic straws are almost never recycled
Critics have pointed out that McDonald’s phased out recyclable plastic straws, and replaced them with non-recyclable paper straws, which could not be. While this may be true in theory, in reality, single-use plastic straws are almost never recycled. Most recycling facilities cannot process plastic straws, because they are too flimsy.
While there are some paper straws that are not easily recyclable, what happens when they do not make it into landfills or recycling facilities is a world of difference from plastic straws. When paper straws end up in waterways and oceans, they will safely biodegrade, and will not endanger animals. Plastic straws on the other hand will continue to pollute the waters of this planet, endangering the wellbeing of marine animals and eventually humans.
While a number of people are calling for McDonald’s to bring back plastic straws to its UK and Irish restaurants, the company is holding steady to its pledge to use paper straws despite current recycling issues. With the UK banning plastic straws and other single-use items, and a majority of polled British citizens supporting plastic straw bans, McDonald’s is on the right path to sustainability.