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McDonald’s pledges to reduce plastic in Happy Meal toys

Future action figures likely to be made of paper

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Photo (c) Madzia71 - Getty Images
McDonald’s is under growing pressure to change its Happy Meals — not just the food, but the toy that goes with it. The chain has now pledged to reduce the amount of plastic used to make the toys.

In Tuesday’s announcement, McDonald’s said Happy Meal toys will contain significantly less plastic by 2025. The company said it has already cut plastic in the toys by 30% since 2018. Once it achieves the latest goal, McDonald’s says Happy Meal toys will contain 90% less plastic than before it began to phase it out.

The toys that come with the meal have almost always been primarily plastic in their composition. In recent years, the toys have included figures and products that promote popular movies.

Previously, McDonald’s critics were focused on the meals themselves. Since 2018, McDonald’s says it has provided food choices that contain fewer calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

Sustainability issues

The company said it has recently heard from parents who voiced concern about the sustainability of the toys provided with the meal. According to CNBC, British schoolchildren started a petition in 2019 that asked both McDonald’s and Burger King to get rid of plastic toys altogether.

McDonald’s executives have been getting creative of late, designing some toys using plant-derived or recycled material. Action figures will also undergo a dramatic change as well.

The characters from popular movies won’t be made of plastic. Rather, they will be 3-D representations made with paper or cardboard.

The company said it is also looking into getting rid of the plastic packaging surrounding the toys. Among the suggestions under consideration are plant-based and certified fiber packaging.

Changes are rolling out overseas

U.S. customers have yet to see the changes, but consumers in some other countries have. McDonald’s has already rolled out plastic-reduced Happy Meal toys in France and is in the process of doing so in Ireland and the U.K.

According to Jenny McColloch, McDonald’s chief sustainability officer, the transition is aimed at appealing to the next generation of consumers who "care deeply about protecting the planet and what we can do to help make our business more sustainable." 

"We've had innovation in our toys for quite some time," McColloch said at a press briefing. "That said, we're always listening to our customers and our families, and understanding where we can do better." 

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