Activists Ask McDonald's to Ditch Plastic Straws

Chain will test paper straws in effort to limit waste

CHICAGO -- Environmentally conscious shareholders are petitioning McDonald’s to begin phasing out its use of plastic straws worldwide. The international consumer group called SumOfUs is citing the damage the plastic devices can do to oceans and marine life.

The consumer advocates are asking the quick-service-restaurant chain to investigate the environmental impact of plastic straws and move forward with a sustainable substitute. As of April 26, the petition on the organization’s website had already gained 451,966 signatures toward its goal of 500,000.

In March, the company pledged to remove plastic straws from its nearly 1,300 locations in Britain. In the meantime, the company will begin storing straws behind the counter and hand them out only on request. The U.K. restaurants will begin testing paper straws in May.

“Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans, and straws are one of the most common plastic items found in beach cleanups,” said Sondhya Gupta, senior campaigner for SumOfUs. “That’s why the plan of McDonald’s—which gives out millions of plastic straws to customers each day—to start phasing out plastic straws in U.K. stores is an important first step toward cleaning up our seas and protecting wildlife. But if McDonald's is serious about improving its impact on the environment, it needs to investigate the risks of sticking with plastic globally, and report on those risks.”

Plastic pollution is top of mind for environmental and animal activists. By some estimates, plastic waste will outweigh the ocean’s fish by 2050. Americans alone use about 500 million straws each day, according to the National Park Service. Viral videos of straws being found in sea turtles’ nostrils and in the stomachs of sea birds and fish have also increased calls for straw bans.

Some jurisdictions are creating regulations that seek to reduce the buildup of plastic in oceans and other ecosystems. A few cities, including Seattle; Malibu, Calif.; and Miami Beach, Fla., have created legislation limiting the use of plastic straws in restaurants.

In Salt Lake City, 95 restaurants have agreed to transition to eco-friendly or biodegradable straw options, following a campaign by the Strawless SLC Campaign. Similar movements are building in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas.

In the past, SumOfUs has also applied pressure to McDonald’s, Starbucks and KFC to responsibly source their palm oil.

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