McDonald's plastic Happy Meal toys
McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, has committed to eliminating most plastic from its Happy Meal toys. | McDonald's

McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys Are Going Sustainable

McDonald's has pledged to make Happy Meal toys more sustainable worldwide by replacing plastic.

McDonald’s plans to “drastically” reduce plastic in its Happy Meals worldwide. But toys aren’t going away for good.

The fast food giant announced on Tuesday that it aims to reduce virgin plastic use by 90 percent compared to 2018 levels by the year 2025. According to the company, this is the equivalent of 650,000 people cutting out plastic use every year.

“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,” says Jenny McColloch, McDonald’s Chief Sustainability Officer.

What will replace plastic Happy Meal toys?

Chicago-based McDonald’s is currently working with toy companies to replace plastic toys with more sustainable alternatives. Specifically, three-dimensional cardboard figures that children can assemble and board games that feature plant-based or recycled game pieces. It is also exploring the idea of upcycling plastic toys into new restaurant trays. 

Over the decades, McDonald’s childrens’ meals have included everything from the latest Disney characters to superheroes to Pokémon. The chain sells more than 1 billion toys each year across its 100 global markets. The company says this significant shift in its business practices is a result of consumer demand for less plastic.

Some countries are already ahead of the game. McDonald’s restaurants in the UK and Ireland only offer soft toys, paper-based toys, or books. Similarly, Burger King phased out plastic toys from childrens’ meals in the UK in 2019.

McDonald’s and sustainability

The move is in line with McDonald’s sustainability commitment to greenhouse gas emissions across its restaurants, offices, and supply chain. This includes investing in renewable energy, sourcing renewable or recycled materials for packaging, and even trialing reusable coffee cups
While U.S. McDonald’s locations are lacking in plant-based food, which emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to meat and dairy, locations across the globe have trialed or added vegan options to the menu. Most recently, a vegan burger called the McPlant, featuring a patty co-developed by California-based brand Beyond Meat, made its UK debut.