Under pressure by environmentalists, McDonald’s said Friday that it will start testing alternatives to plastic straws at select locations in the U.S. later this year.
The burger giant also announced that it will adopt more eco-friendly paper straws across all its 1,361 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland, a region where the company started testing the alternative to plastic straws earlier this year. The regional rollout begins in September.
Single-use straws are the scourge of the packaging-waste world because they don’t easily biodegrade and aren't really necessary for most people when it comes to gulping a soft drink.
The activist group SumOfUs estimates that every day, McDonald’s alone dispenses millions of plastic straws that customers soon discard, leaving them to litter beaches or clog waterways and fill trash dumps.
“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good and working to find sustainable solutions for plastic straws globally,” Francesca DeBiase, the company's executive vice president for global supply chain and sustainability, said in a statement. “We hope this work will support industry wide change."
The Chicago-based fast-food chain said it has been dabbling in disposable-straw alternatives in Belgium, too. Later this year, it will also begin trying them in France, Sweden and Norway. And in Malaysia, McDonald's will try a new approach to dispensing straws -- giving them out only if a customer requests one.
McDonald's move is a "significant contribution to help our natural environment," said Michael Gove, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs in the U.K., in a statement. “We want more companies to say no to unnecessary single-use plastics."
McDonald's isn't the only major straw user to start tossing them aside. Royal Caribbean has promised to nix them by the end of this year, joining fellow cruise companies Hurtigruten and Peregrine Adventures who've made similar pledges. Alaska Airlines is getting rid of plastic drink stirrers starting next month. And the food service company Bon Appétit Management, whose 1,000-plus locations in 33 states range from the Art Institute of Chicago to the University of Portland, will stop using plastic straws and stirrers by September 2019.
Straws are coming under attack not only in corporate boardrooms, but also in government. Both California and New York City are considering banning them.
Eric Goldstein, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the announcement from as big a company as McDonald's reflects the growing tide of concern about single-use plastics worldwide.
"The drive to eliminate plastic straws is a good step and it's symbolic -- and symbols are important," he said. "You could say it should've been done earlier, but it's certainly better late than never.."