McDonald’s says it will gradually switch from plastic drinking straws to paper ones, starting in Britain and Ireland in September, and eliminating them altogether in those two markets by 2019.
The global food chain said it will also phase out plastic straws in some markets in the United States, as well as in France, Sweden, Norway and Australia.
It’s a seemingly small, but environmentally significant move. Environmentalists have worked hard in recent years to raise awareness about just how detrimental plastic drinking straws are.
According to A Strawless Ocean, Americans use over 500 million plastic drinking straws a day. And because plastic drinking straws are in most cases too lightweight to recycle they end up polluting our oceans.
McDonald’s reportedly uses some 1.8 million plastic straws a day in the UK alone, making the company the single biggest culprit. After a petition calling for the company to stop their use of plastic straws was started, the company announced on Facebook that it would phase them out, writing “You asked, we listened.”
The push for a ban received additional impetus following a viral video that showed researchers working to remove a straw from the nose of a sea turtle — one of millions of sea creatures harmed by ingesting plastic.
Various US cities have outlawed the use of plastic straws, while some companies have begun making changes to their containers as they plan for a future without them. Starbucks, for example, has introduced a strawless lid.
Not everyone is a fan of the change. Some people point out that some people with disabilities require straws to ingest food and liquids, and say they will now be required to carry a personal straw around with them, since paper straws collapse more easily and are generally seen as less user friendly.
Some environmentally conscious people in the United States say that’s what they already do, toting their own reusable straw, while they wait for a plastic straw ban to be introduced on these shores.
Whether or not cutting down on excessive straw use is the best way forward, plastic waste in our oceans is a growing problem. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation projects that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, if we don’t correct course soon.