Breaking news—McDonald’s paper straws cannot be recycled

You know those paper straws that have replaced plastic straws at McDonald’s? It turns out they aren’t as eco-friendly as advertised. The BBC reports that the paper straws the fast-food giant promoted after eliminating plastic straws in all of its UK outlets as part of the company’s “green” drive currently are not recyclable.

McDonald's neon sign
Image courtesy Thomas Hawk/flickr.

The paper straws must be much thicker than their plastic counterparts to maintain stiffness while customers enjoy their tasty beverage of choice. Paper straws use more material because of the thicker walls, making them more difficult to process in recycling streams. Obviously, they are not acceptable in composting facilities, either.

The BBC news item also noted that customers were “unhappy with the new [paper] straws, saying they dissolved before a drink could be finished, with milkshakes particularly hard to drink.”

The jig is up! Consumers, who we have been told are driving demand for more eco-friendly retail bags, food and beverage containers, straws and so forth, are now demanding the return of the plastic straw! “A petition by irate McDonald’s customers to bring back plastic straws has so far been signed by 51,000 people,” reported the BBC.

“As a result of customer feedback, we strengthened our paper straws,” a McDonald’s spokesman told the BBC. “While the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups,” he said.

The hype about the environmental advantages of paper over plastics is finally being overshadowed by the truth: Most paper food and beverage items are not recyclable or compostable. Of course, the packaging industry has known that fact all along—it just won’t admit it publicly for fear of being “green-shamed.”

Green-shaming by anti-plastic groups has driven brand-owners large and small into choosing alternatives that are far from “green.” Yes, some types of paper are recyclable. However, there is a glut of paper in the recycling stream that is causing some municipalities to stop taking paper in their curbside recycling programs.

When it comes to items such as paper straws and paper carryout food containers, there are certain criteria for these items to be food-safe and sturdy enough to hold the food and drinks without falling apart. White paper straws and containers are bleached to attain the sterile-looking whiteness, and composting facilities generally will not take any type of paper straw or food container that has been bleached with chlorine, as they do not want that chemical in the soil.

“Virtue signaling” by companies like McDonald’s, eager to appear green to their customers, needs to be replaced by science-based decision making and the application of common sense. I hope that virtue signaling is starting to peak and that brand owners will turn to the science of plastics to make their packaging decisions, and not cave to the fear of being green-shamed by groups that turn a blind eye to scientific facts.

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