McDonald’s Will Offer More Sustainable Happy Meal Toys by 2025

New prizes will be made from renewable, recyclable plastics and cardboard in a shift away from using plastic made from virgin fossil fuels

An image of a 5-year old child playing with a McDonald's Happy Meal toy. In front of the child is a happy meal with fries and seated next to the child is his father.
The change to more eco-friendly toys is already underway in some countries like the UK and Ireland. In France, kids can choose between receiving a sustainable toy or a book in the "One Book or One Toy" program with their Happy Meal.
  David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Since launching the first Happy Meal in 1979, McDonald's has churned out iconic Happy Meal toys year after year—from McFurbys to dozens of Disney characters. Now, the McDonald's Happy Meal is about to undergo a more sustainable update.

Last month, McDonald's announced that by the end of 2025, every Happy Meal toy sold around the world would be more eco-friendly and consist of renewable and recycled materials. The change from traditional plastic toys should result in a 90 percent reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use, according to a statement. This amount is comparable to 650,000 people not using plastic for a year, Bill Chappell reports for NPR.

"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," Jenny McColloch, the Chief Sustainability Officer for McDonald's, said in a statement.

New sustainable toys will feature buildable 3-D paper figures and other toys made from plant-derived materials or recycled plastic, reports Insider's Cheryl Teh. The change to more eco-friendly toys is already underway in some countries, including the United Kingdom and Ireland. In France, kids can choose between receiving a sustainable toy or a book in the "One Book or One Toy" program with their Happy Meal, report Deema Zein and Julia Griffin for PBS News Hour.

However, some experts say that while reducing the number of plastic toys is the first step, the fast-food giant is only scratching the surface.

"Given that McDonald's is one of the world's largest franchising brands, more can be done in terms of other operations, like reducing their carbon footprint while moving products across supply chains," Sharon Seah, a climate change expert at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told Insider

Seah explained to Insider that McDonald's could offer more vegan or plant-based options on their menu to reduce beef consumption. Other fast-food chains, like Burger King and Qdoba, already offer plant-based meat options like the Impossible Whopper and other Impossible-brand meat options for burritos and tacos, Erica Chayes Wida reports for Today.

McDonald's sells more than a billion pounds of beef in the United States alone, per Insider. In 2018, cattle, sheep, and goat farming produced 178 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, per the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems.

Aside from switching out plastic toys for cardboard ones, McDonald's aims to reduce their packaging waste. By 2025, McDonald's plans to obtain 100 percent of its guest packaging from recycled sources and recycle the packaging in all its restaurants, NPR reports. Currently, the company has reached 80 percent of this goal.  

"By reducing conventional virgin plastic inputs by a projected 90 percent, the re-imagined toys will reduce the demand on fossil fuel plastic production to instead create new markets for responsibly-sourced renewable and recycled content," said Sheila Bonini, the Senior Vice President at World Wildlife Fund, in a McDonald's statement. "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." 

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