McDonald’s board faces pressure over the 95 million straws its restaurants distribute every day

McDonald’s shareholders will use tomorrow’s AGM to demand the fast food giant rethinks its policy of distributing plastic straws globally following its decision to phase them out in the UK.

FEJ has learned that Dr. Elaine Leung, a marine biologist, intends to present a resolution requesting the company issues a report to shareholders on the business risks associated with its continued use of plastic straws and on its effort to develop and implement substitutes for plastic straws in its restaurants.

However, the McDonald’s board will recommend shareholders vote against the proposal on the basis that the report is “unnecessary” and that initiatives are already in place to find cost-effective and sustainable alternatives for plastic straws worldwide.

The shareholder resolution is being submitted by SumOfUs, an international consumer group and McDonald’s shareholder, on behalf of McDonald’s shareholders.

McDonald’s distributes an estimated 95 million single-use plastic straws each day in its 36,000 restaurants in over 100 countries, but revealed plans in March to phase out their use in the UK.

SumOfUs argues that plastic straws could put McDonald’s at a competitive disadvantage, and that shareholder value would be enhanced by the development of plans to phase out plastic straws. It says that straws given to customers are typically discarded after minutes of use, with many ending up dumped into the ocean, severely harming marine wildlife, specifically turtles, baby seabirds, and fish, as a result.

“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. That’s why the plan of McDonald’s – which gives out millions of plastic straws to customers each day – to starting phasing out plastic straws in UK stores is an important first step towards cleaning up our seas and protecting wildlife,” said Sondhya Gupta, senior campaigner for SumOfUs. “But if McDonald’s is serious about improving its impact on the environment, it needs to investigate the risks of sticking with plastic globally, and report on those risks.”

The McDonald’s board claims it has carefully considered the call for a report on plastic straw usage but feels it has the potential for a diversion of resources with no corresponding benefit to the company, particularly in light of its ongoing packaging sustainability efforts and open and transparent reporting.

It said it is working with suppliers and packaging specialists on packaging innovations, including straws, in order to reduce its sourcing footprint, reduce material volume where possible, design packaging to recapture the value of materials through recycling and reduce the costs and environmental impacts associated with its disposal.

Earlier this year, the company announced goals to significantly improve packaging and reduce waste by 2025. Its aim is that, by 2025, all of McDonald’s guest packaging will come from renewable, recycled or certified sources, with 100% of its fibre-based packaging to come from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs by 2020.

On plastic straws specifically, the company says it continues to work to find cost-effective, sustainable alternatives globally and has formed a fast-action working group to explore ways to address the issue holistically and identify, research and pilot potential plastic straw substitutes.

It stated: “We recognise that there are many challenges to making progress on this important issue. These include operating in over 100 countries under many different laws and with varied customer preferences, seeking potential substitutes to plastic straws that will meet the company’s high quality and safety standards, and identifying appropriate approved suppliers that will be able to ensure a stable supply for McDonald’s restaurants. However, we continue to explore a variety of alternatives to enhance the environmental stewardship of straws and continue to provide a great customer experience, and we are in the process of identifying restaurants and markets to pilot these initiatives.”

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