Not so plastic Happy Meals

19 September 2019 | Lucy Bishop
After my last blog about Hellmann's doing its bit to help reduce plastic waste by now making its mayonnaise bottles out of recycled plastic, two giants of the fast-food industry have announced that they are also committed to reducing their plastic waste to help the environment.

Burger King UK has announced that, from today, it will no longer be handing out plastic toys with children's meals, which, much like Hellmann’s, is a huge step in the right direction to reduce the amount of plastic ending up at landfill.

Likewise, McDonald's has also issued a statement that it’s clamping down on plastic kids toys in an effort to protect the environment, and from October it will give customers the option to swap out the plastic toys in Happy Meals for a fruit bag and, from next year, a book.

But why would these fast food giants choose to do this? Apart from all the positive PR this will bring them? Well, it all comes down to a letter that two sisters wrote to them just under a year ago.

After being taught about the consequences that plastics can have on the planet, sisters Ella and Caitlin McEwan, aged 9 and 7, from Southampton decided that one way they could help the planet is by contacting fast-food giants McDonald's and Burger King. The girls set up a petition 11 months ago where they urged both conglomerates to think about the necessity of the toys. On their petition page, the girls mention that “children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea”. A very valid point.

It’s lovely to see that the younger generation takes an interest in the future of our planet, by being taught about the impacts of plastic on the environment and then putting their thoughts into action by campaigning for change. And the girl’s efforts have indeed paid off, as now there are currently over half a million signatures on the petition and both Burger King and McDonald's have responded to it.

Burger King’s decision to remove plastic toys altogether is expected to save an estimated 320 tonnes of plastic waste each year from going to landfill. That’s a whole lot of plastic! It will also be putting ‘toy bins’ in each restaurant where children are able to donate any unwanted, old plastic meal toys which can then be melted down, recycled and repurposed in stores as trays, seating and play areas.

While McDonalds’ plan to give customers the option to choose whether they have a plastic toy is a great idea in principal, it does seem a little flawed. I can’t imagine many children would choose to have a bag of fruit (eww healthy) over a character plastic toy (ooo exciting!). Even well-meaning parents would probably go for the toy option, as it provides a useful distraction to allow the parents time to eat! Somehow, I doubt a bag of fruit will have the same effect. Either way though, it’s still a huge step in the right direction to help reduce plastic wastage as McDonald's is committed to ensuring that all of its packaging comes from renewable or recycled sources by 2025.

Overall the fact that two young girls with a passion for saving the environment can have such a huge impact on how two industry giants look at how much plastic wastage they are producing is amazing. A big round of applause to both Ella and Caitlin McEwan as without their passion to help the planet the chances are this wouldn’t have happened…or certainly not as quickly, anyway.