By Sarah Gray
May 22, 2018

This week, McDonald’s shareholders will decide whether or not to phase out the plastic straw at over 37,000 of the fast food chain’s locations.

Banning the difficult-to-recycle, single-use plastic straw is the current focus of environmentalists, local governments, and some consumers alike; and at their annual meeting on Thursday, May 24, shareholders will vote on a proposal to do away with plastic straws.

The McDonald’s board has encouraged shareholders not to vote for the phasing out of plastic straws, according to the Orange County Register, claiming it will divert resources from other environmental initiatives. Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced it would beef up its sustainability practices, including environmentally friendly packaging and recycling at all of its locations by 2025.

However, activists are continuing their push. The organization SumOfUs, has already collected nearly 500,000 signatures on a petition to ask McDonald’s to do away with plastic straws.

“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,” Sondhya Gupta, of SumOfUs told the Register.

Americans use around 500 million straws per day, and straws are the fifth most common trash left on the beach, according to data compiled for the Better Alternatives Now List 2.0 from the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day, NOAA’s Marine Debris Tracker, Clean Ocean Action, Project Aware, and Heal the Bay. The B.A.N. List 2.0, released earlier in 2018, also broke down the brand of straw waste and McDonald’s straws came in a very close second to Starbucks.

This month, McDonald’s in the U.K. is removing plastic straws from its roughly 1,300 locations. The straw reduction strategy will be two-fold: Straws will be kept behind the counter, so that customers have to ask for them, and plastic straws will be replaced with paper ones, according to Sky News.

“Customers have told us that they don’t want to be given a straw and that they want to have to ask for one, so we’re acting on that,” McDonald’s U.K. CEO Paul Pomroy said in a statement back in March when this initiative was announced. “Straws are one of those things that people feel passionately about, and rightly so, and we’re moving those straws behind the front counter.”

These two strategies—restaurants only handing out straws on request, along with biodegradable plastic straw alternatives—are two of the main solutions being discussed for eliminating plastic straws.

Thursday’s vote will be a turning point for McDonald’s and the plastic straw. The company released a statement to USA Today on Monday ahead of the vote: “We continue to work to find a more sustainable solution for plastic straws globally,” said the McDonald’s statement. “In the meantime, we have adopted compostable straws in certain markets to meet regulations while we work with packaging experts to develop a planet-friendly, cost-effective answer for all McDonald’s restaurants.”

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