With environmentalists increasingly clamoring for a ban on plastic straws, McDonald’s shareholders in May will consider a proposal aimed at phasing out the ubiquitous cylinders in the United States.
However, McDonald’s board of directors is opposing the proposal, saying it could unnecessarily divert money from other efforts by the mega-chain to become more environmentally friendly.
“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 of SumOfUs, which is pushing McDonald’s on the straw issue. The group has so far collected more than 450,000 petition signatures urging McDonald’s to stop using plastic straws.
Since California voters approved a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in 2016, activists’ attention has turned to other plastics commonly found along the coast and in the ocean, including straws, bottle caps, polystyrene and food packaging.
Plastic straws are the fifth most common beach trash in the U.S., according to data from six U.S. organizations involved with cleanups and cleanup analysis. The data was compiled by 5 Gyres Institute, which is dedicated to reducing plastic pollution.
The proposal to be considered by McDonald’s shareholders May 24 calls for the company to conduct a study enumerating “business risks” associated with use of plastic straws, arguing that their continued use could cost McDonald’s environmentally aware customers. The study would also look developing and implementing substitutes for plastic straws.
In materials distributed to shareholders in advance of the May 24 meeting on the issue, McDonald’s board responded that “the requested report is unnecessary, redundant to our current practices and initiatives, and has the potential for a diversion of resources with no corresponding benefit to the company, our customers, and our shareholders, particularly in light of our ongoing packaging sustainability efforts.”
In January, McDonald’s announced that by 2025, all packaging for customer-purchased food would come from renewable, recycled or certified sources, and that it set a goal to recycle guest packaging “in 100 percent of McDonald’s restaurants.”
“Our customers have told us that packaging waste is the top environmental issue they would like us to address,” Francesca DeBiase, chief supply chain and sustainability officer, said at the time.
The announcement was praised by the World Wildlife Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund. McDonald’s has more than 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries.
While McDonald’s appears reluctant to specifically target plastic-straw use in the U.S., they are doing so in the United Kingdom. The company announced in May that U.K customers wanting straws would have to request them and that they planned to launch a pilot program there using paper straws. The U.K is considered an outright ban on single-use plastic straws and drink stirrers.
In California, pending legislation would ban restaurants from offering single-use plastic straws unless requested by the customer. Some restaurants have already instituted this practice while others use compostable paper straws.
Additionally, several coastal cities in the state have already taken steps to reduce the use of single-use plastic straws.
In February, the Malibu City Council voted unanimously to ban restaurants and food vendors from offering plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery. Manhattan Beach, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obisbo have related restrictions.
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