Under pressure from eco-friendly and climate-conscious customers, many businesses are currently working on plans for a more sustainable route forward.
For the fast-food industry, this sustainable route involves making changes to food packaging.
Following a petition that gained almost 500,000 signatures, McDonald’s decided to make the switch from plastic straws to paper ones and began rolling out the change back in 2018.
Soon, all 1,361 McDonald's restaurants in the UK had ditched the plastic straws.
In itself, this swap from plastic to paper seemed like a green solution to the problem. However, if you scratch just below the surface, it’s clear that this isn’t ideal.
Initial feedback from customers centred around the consumption of drinks and, in particular, milkshakes. Social media was awash with tales of soggy straws.
Famously thick, McDonald’s milkshakes weren’t physically drinkable with the new straws.
In response to this feedback, McDonald’s again changed its straws — this time to a thicker, stronger paper straw.
However, these replacement straws still don’t seem up to the job of tackling a milkshake:
McDonald’s has suggested it will be providing an alternative to the paper straws in the future for those that need them, but it didn’t make it clear if this will be a return of the plastic straws or another alternative.
This week it has been brought to the public’s attention that the thick paper straws aren’t recyclable, unlike the plastic ones.
Why can’t these paper straws be recycled? A McDonald’s spokesman said on the issue:
"While the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups."
For the time being, this means that the paper straws in McDonald’s restaurants will have to be placed in the general waste bin.
Overall, this means that the restaurant chain’s efforts to be more sustainable have failed so far.
We are unsure of why exactly the paper straws cannot be recycled, as cardboard is easily and widely recycled elsewhere.
Realistically, straws are only essential to a small proportion of the population — those that require them to drink due to specific impairments, for example.
So, a good route forward for McDonald’s might be to educate its customers and work on changing habits instead of enabling them. Many pubs and bars have removed straws altogether, for example.
Most drinks don’t require a straw, and a milkshake, if too thick, could be enjoyed with a spoon or similar.
Customers who need a straw, or prefer using one, could opt for a reusable one instead — there are many on the market now, from bamboo to glass and stainless steel versions.
However, at the time of writing, there is a petition to bring back the plastic straws at McDonald’s, which has been signed by more than 51,000 people.