In Brief

Why plastic straws are being axed by McDonald’s

Fast-food giant to replace single-use plastic straws with paper ones from September as environmental fears grow

McDonald’s has announced that it will switch to using only paper straws in all of its UK and Ireland branches, amid a worldwide push to encourage corporations to phase out plastic straws.

The burger chain currently gets through around 1.8 million plastic straws every day in the UK alone. From September, these will be replaced by paper straws, manufactured by Welsh start-up Transcend Packaging and Huhtamaki, at its plant in Belfast.

“Reflecting the broader public debate, our customers told us they wanted to see a move on straws,” McDonald’s said in a statement.

The fast-food giant is the latest company to move away from single-use plastic products, “which can take hundreds of years to decompose if not recycled”, the BBC reports.

Paper straws were the default in bars and restaurants until the 1960s, when they were overtaken by plastic. Britain now uses an estimated 8.5 billion a year, while the US gets through more than 500 million a day, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Figures from the US-based Ocean Conservancy’s TIDES data system show that plastic straws are the 11th most common item of rubbish found during oceanic clean-ups, making up about 3% of recovered waste.

Straws are usually made from type 5 plastic, or polypropylene, which can take up to 200 years to degrade and “will never be fully off the Earth”, says the blog Get Green Now.

“To make matters worse, the degrading of plastic releases chemicals that are toxic to wildlife and the environment,” the blog adds.

And although type 5 plastic can be recycled, this “does not happen nearly as much as it should”, Metro says.

Even when plastic straws are recycled, they are generally “too lightweight to make it through the mechanical recycling sorter”, which means they “drop through sorting screens and mix with other materials and are too small to separate, contaminating recycling loads or getting disposed [of] as garbage”, says campaign group For a Strawless Ocean.

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