Many of us have fond memories of visiting McDonald’s with our friends and family as children and receiving the specially packaged Happy Meals. Underneath those cardboard golden arches, we knew that we would find a little toy inside, which we would eagerly anticipate putting together and playing with.
However, if we examine those memories, many will admit that these cheap plastic bits and bobs would entertain us only for a few minutes before they were forgotten and left lying under our beds or deep in the crevices of car seats, and eventually ending up in a landfill.
Well, McDonald’s is finally addressing this problem, saying it will “keep the fun, protect the planet,” by promising to make all Happy Meal toys across the globe with more sustainable, eco-friendly material by 2025. Instead of disposable plastic toys, children can look forward to pop-out paper figurines, board games made with plant-based or recycled game pieces, trading cards, paper coloring patterns, and toys fashioned out of bio-based material.
“Making our toys out of renewable, recycled, or certified materials will result in about a 90 percent reduction of fossil fuel-based plastic in Happy Meal toys, from a baseline of 2018,” a company press release reads. “For perspective, that’s more or less the size of the entire population of Washington, DC, eliminating plastics from their lives for a year.”
Following Burger King’s example, which eliminated all plastic toys from kids’ meals in the UK back in 2019, McDonald’s has been working on phasing out plastic toys in the UK, France, and Ireland. The plastic trinkets have since been replaced with longer-lasting items such as soft plush toys, books, and paper-based toys. These changes have resulted in a 30 percent reduction in virgin plastic use.
McDonald’s has also been toying with the idea (excuse the pun) of recycling old Happy Meal toys into restaurant trays. In Japan, trays have been manufactured using 10 percent old toys.
The idea to scrap the plastic toys actually came from two little girls, Caitlin and Ella, who petitioned the company to get rid of plastic Happy Meal toys in England. While these tiny toys are only a small fraction of the gigantic plastic problem we face today, McDonalds’ shift away from plastic still prevents a significant amount of plastic waste from being generated. Plus, it speaks to the power of the smallest and youngest members of our community to change our world for the better.