In 2018, the indisputable year of the plastic straw backlash, McDonald’s phased out the 1.8 million single-use plastic straws its 1,361 U.K. and Ireland stores go through every day in favor of “eco-friendly” paper straws. But, in a twist, an internal memo recently obtained by The Sun reveals that McDonald’s paper straws — meant to help “protect the environment” — cannot actually be recycled and should be thrown away with other trash.
According to the fast-food giant, the paper straws’ materials are recyclable, but the straw thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by waste solution providers. The reason the straws are so thick, McDonald’s said in a statement, is because the chain strengthened them after negative feedback on the original paper straws, which some customers complained became “soggy” and made milkshakes hard to drink.
While McDonald’s claimed that this situation is only temporary, there is a cry-laughing-emoji sort of irony in the fact that the chain’s axed plastic straws were recyclable, and the paper straws are not. But McDonald’s environmental efforts, as bumbling as they may be, are still arguably better than nothing. Instead of getting dumped in a landfill, waste from its restaurants is used to generate energy, the company told BBC News, which produces less greenhouse gases than just letting the waste sit and decompose. And, as The Takeout points out, at least paper straws littered on the side of the road will eventually break down, compared to the hundreds of years that a plastic straw can stick around.
Still, between this news and the discovery that the “compostable” molded fiber bowls Sweetgreen salads come in are actually full of non-biodegradable chemicals, one has to ask: have we really not figured out ecological solutions at scale yet? If humans can formulate believable meatless meat, truly environmentally friendly mass-market packaging must be feasible, right?