Just when we thought McDonald’s were doing something positive for the planet, it turns out they haven’t quite got it all figured out. The restaurant chain announced that the paper straws that are being given out in U.K. stores can’t be recycled.
McDonald’s UK switched from plastic straws, which were recyclable, in the fall of 2018, after trying the paper ones out in a few stores earlier in the year. The roll out came just after the U.K. government proposed a ban on plastic straws and cotton buds, with then-Prime Minister Theresa May describing plastic waste as, “one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world.” A year later, in May 2019, the government agreed to the ban, which will go into effect in 2020.
However, some customers were not impressed, complaining that the new paper straws were so weak that they dissolved before they could finish their drinks. This prompted McDonald’s to produce a thicker version — which had unexpected consequences. The materials in the new straws are recyclable: but they’re now so thick that it’s too difficult for the company handling McDonald’s UK’s waste to recycle them. A spokesperson said that the straws have to be thrown away with the regular waste.
Cue typical British understatement:
McDonald's paper straws cannot be recycled— Andy Crouch (@amcrouch) August 5, 2019
Well that's awkward ...https://t.co/aSW5U6PtMo
We knew it all seemed too good to be true.
Perhaps McDonald’s didn’t think this one through.
McDonald's we will stop using plastic straws to help the environment here's paper straws— Simeon Coyne ⚫⚪⭐⭐⭐ (@JuveMetal32) August 5, 2019
McDonald's hold on wait stop using paper straws because we can't recycle them 😂😂😂 man you just can't make this shit up https://t.co/SJJnCpOJwZ
As observant Twitter user Katie Grant pointed out, the upcoming ban means this isn’t just going to be an issue for McDonald’s.
So it certainly is newsworthy that McDonald's isn't recycling its paper straws but, I would argue, mainly because that points to a wider problem for the entire industry once the plastic straw ban comes in next year— Katie Grant (@kt_grant) August 5, 2019
Even before this news broke, 51,000 anti-paper straw Brits had signed a petition to get the plastic ones back.
Why on God’s green earth would you go and sign a petition to have McDonald’s bring back plastic straws? 51,000+ people have apparently - it raises so many questions about people in general, half the population is thick 🤣 did anyone here sign it? Lol— The Sheffield Honey Company 🍯🐝 (@SheffieldHoney) August 5, 2019
One group who really need plastic straws are people with disabilities that make it hard or impossible for them to drink without one:
Disabled people: PLEASE DO NOT BAN PLASTIC STRAWS SOME OF US NEED THEM— eri ❤️💜💙🖖 (@erileff) July 26, 2018
McDonald's and other companies: Oh cool the whole world is on board with this trend let's do it!
Disabled people: ??????
Although one Twitter user pointed out that long-term, it would be better to have an alternative to plastic AND paper:
As a disabled guy that relies on straws I can see the need for them back as the paper ones are no good. But I would much rather McDonald's and the likes came up with a more suitable alternative, rather than the cheapest option.— NUFCDaft (@NUFCDaftDan) April 25, 2019
Meanwhile, another petition has the opposite agenda…
We did it in Austria too and McDonald's Austria is not officially accepting the petition over 600 000 signatures to change from. Plastic to paper straw immediately, they just don't care.— Circular Wien (@stellawittmann) July 22, 2019
Plastic is still the worse option, environmentally speaking:
To be fair I'd sooner a non recyclable paper straw that's compostable and will break down properly and quickly than a recyclable plastic straw that will more than likely just end up in landfill or the ocean— 🔥 Peter Robinson 🔥 (@nullr0ute) August 5, 2019
Especially since, as Grant tweeted, those plastic straws might not have been recyclable anyway, meaning they were still going to end up as pollution.
Also seeing in virtually every report that McDonald's plastic straws were recyclable, off the back of the Sun report. While they were *technically* recyclable, they almost certainly weren't recycled in practice due to being low grade, and also food contamination https://t.co/VqQzhGkLRb— Katie Grant (@kt_grant) August 5, 2019
Whereas paper straws may, eventually, break down.
If a paper straw ends up in the ocean, it dissolves and goes away.— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) August 5, 2019
If a plastic straw ends up in the ocean, it breaks up into tiny microplastics that remain in the ocean + animals' bodies + our bodies forever
Besides, straws are only the beginning:
As usual, some people have “helpful” solutions of their own:
There are apparently multiple magical materials McDonald’s are overlooking:
As well as money-making opportunities:
However, that could be over-engineering.
I mean, apart from for their super-thick milkshakes, why do people need a straw to consume McD's soft drinks? Surely a plastic lid similar to those on its hot beverage cups would suffice? Could virtually eliminate straws altogether rather than switch to paper...— Lee Petts (@leepfwd) August 5, 2019
Ultimately, going without a straw of any kind is best — if that’s possible for you. And if you can get by with a paper one, that’s still going to have a lesser impact on the environment than one that’s made of plastic. It’s not ideal, but sometimes saving the world sucks.