McDonald’s commits to reduce virgin plastics in Happy Meal toys
Image courtesy of McDonald's

McDonald’s commits to reduce virgin plastics in Happy Meal toys

The global restaurant chain seeks to reduce virgin fossil-fuel-based plastics by 90 percent by the end of 2025.

September 22, 2021

On Sept. 21, McDonald’s announced its ambition to reduce the virgin fossil fuel-based plastics used in the construction of its Happy Meal toys by 90 percent by the end of 2025.

This transition to more renewable, recycled or certified materials for toys is underway, the Chicago-based company says, and will result in an approximately 90 percent reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use against a 2018 baseline for the toys the company produces for its restaurants around the globe. Since 2018, Happy Meal toy innovations already underway in markets around the world such as the UK, Ireland and France have already resulted in a 30 percent reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use.  

“Our next generation of customers care deeply about protecting the planet and what we can do to help make our business more sustainable. We’re always exploring where we can drive greater impact, including the transformation of beloved icons like the Happy Meal,” Jenny McColloch, McDonald’s chief sustainability officer, says. “With this transition for our toys, we’re working closely with suppliers, families and play experts and engineers to introduce more sustainable, innovative designs and help drive demand for recycled materials, to keep McDonald’s communities and beyond smiling for generations to come.”

In some cases, McDonald’s says virgin fossil fuel-based plastic game pieces can be swapped out in favor of accessories made from certified plant-derived or recycled materials. Beyond the composition of the toys, the business also has explored recycling old toys into new restaurant trays and replacing plastic wrappers on the toys with new plant-based and premium-certified fiber packaging.

"Sustainable material sourcing is a necessary strategy for mitigating the impact of supply chains on our ecosystems and climate, including the plastic waste crisis,” Sheila Bonini, senior vice president, private sector engagement at World Wildlife Fund, says. “By reducing conventional virgin plastic inputs by a projected 90 percent, the reimagined toys will reduce the demand on fossil fuel plastic production to instead create new markets for responsibly sourced renewable and recycled content. And through its immense reach of these toys, McDonald's can engage its millions of daily customers around the world in the transition to a more sustainable, circular future."

The shift toward more sustainable Happy Meal toys is the latest step McDonald’s is taking to help reduce waste, conserve forests and ecosystems, and drive climate action. Notably, McDonald’s was the first global restaurant company to set a science-based target to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Today, McDonald’s is on track to meet its 2030 targets, achieving an 8.5 percent reduction in the absolute emissions of its restaurants and offices (toward its 36 percent reduction goal) and a nearly 6 percent reduction in supply chain emissions intensity (toward its 31 percent reduction goal) from 2015 baselines. Additionally, by the end of 2020, McDonald’s was approximately 80 percent of the way to its goal to source all guest packaging from renewable, recyclable or certified sources by 2025. Progress has been propelled by investments in renewable energy and the company's achievement of its 2020 Responsible Sourcing Goals regarding beef, soy, coffee, fish, palm oil, packaging fiber and forests.