McDonald’s Pledges to Make Its Happy Meal Toys More Sustainable

The company says it will phase out plastic in favor of more 'innovative' materials.

September 24, 2021
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Photo by: JOERG KOCH/Getty

JOERG KOCH/Getty

McDonald’s announced this week that the toys that come in Happy Meals — a staple of its menu since 1979 — are getting an environmentally friendly makeover. By the end of 2025, the company pledged every toy in every Happy Meal sold at locations worldwide will be made of more sustainable materials.

In some countries — the U.K., Ireland and France, for instance — the transition to more renewable and recyclable toy materials is already under way and has reduced virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use by 30 percent since it began in 2018. With this broader initiative rollout, McDonald’s is now aiming for a 90 percent reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use in toys, compared to 2018. McDonald’s equates that reduction to the effect of every resident of Washington, DC, eliminating all use of plastics for a year.

As part of the sustainable overhaul employing more “innovative” materials, McDonald’s is also aiming to make the toys in its Happy Meals more interactive, customizable and whole-family-focused. Plastic figurines of popular movie characters, such as Batman or Minions, for instance, may be reinvented as 3D figures kids (and grownups) can build and decorate themselves.

Happy Meal purchasers can also expect game pieces previously made of plastic to be made instead from, say, certified plant-derived or recycled materials. Toys that formerly came wrapped in plastic may instead come in plant-based and certified fiber packaging. And the toys themselves, once discarded, may be recycled into restaurant trays.

The move is part of McDonald’s broader shift toward greater sustainability in its packaging and products. The fast-food giant has set a goal of creating 100 percent of its guest packaging from renewable, recyclable or certified sources by 2025.

“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, said in a news release. “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.”

Louise Soper, SVP global brand partnerships at Warner Bros. Pictures, says her company applauds McDonald’s move toward more sustainable toys at locations worldwide.

“We’re actively imagining what the next batch of your family’s favorite characters will look like in a way that’s just as fun and even better for the environment,” Soper said.

The Happy Meal toy initiative was hailed on Twitter. “So glad to hear your plan to reduce plastics!” wrote one commenter in response to the announcement.

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