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Consumer Trends

Burger King, McDonald’s rethink giving away plastic toys

The U.K. operations of each have been targeted by two environmental activists overseas. The oldest of which is 9.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The U.K. operations of Burger King and McDonald’s are reconsidering what to include in their kids meals after two grade school students leaned on the quick-service giants to drop plastic toys from the mix.

Burger King has already acquiesced to 9-year-old Ella McEwan and her 7-year-old sister Caitlin, who drafted a petition on the activist website Change.org to pressure the fast-food giants into halting their giveaway of figurines and other playthings made of plastic.

Burger Kings in the U.K. stopped including plastic toys in their kids meals on Wednesday and invited consumers to return the toys from any brand’s meals yesterday and today for a “meltdown” and recycling. Any adult who brings in a plastic toy and purchases a meal for themselves will be rewarded with a free kids meal, sans a plastic toy.

The chain has not yet revealed what it might include in the bundled offerings to replace the toys.

McDonald’s said it will continue to include plastic toys in its Happy Meals, but announced this week that it will allow purchasers to swap out the toy for a bag of fruit starting next month. As of 2020, the choice will switch to a toy or a book.

McDonald’s U.K. CEO Paul Pomroy characterized the expanded choices as a test. We recognize that some people may not want a plastic Happy Meal toy, but we also know that the gifts provide fun for many families and children,” he said in a statement. “That’s why we’ll be running these trials, in order to give our customers a choice; they also can choose not to have a toy or gift at all.”

The tests will be conducted in the U.K. and Ireland, McDonald’s said.

Neither chain indicated that the policies adopted in the U.K. could be transported to the United States.

McDonald’s and Burger King were the only chains specifically targeted by the McEwan sisters. “We like to go to eat at Burger King and McDonald’s, but children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea,” the pair wrote on Change.org.

The girls explained that they’d been learning at school about the environment and the danger posed by plastics. “It made us very sad to see how plastic harms wildlife and pollutes the ocean, and we want to change this,” they wrote.

Their petition has reportedly been signed by 550,000 people at press time.

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