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Why McDonald’s New Paper Straws Aren't Recyclable

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A plastic cup for a shake, a beverage cup for soft drinks and disposable plastic crockery from McDonald's lie in a garbage can in Berlin, Germany on June 28. Gerald Matzka / picture alliance via Getty Images

McDonald's ditched plastic straws in the United Kingdom and Ireland last fall and replaced them with paper ones made from recyclable materials. It turns out though the new straws can't be recycled. The plastic ones could, according to CNN.


McDonald's received praise for an environmentally sound move when it replaced the 1.8 million plastic straws it uses everyday in the UK and Ireland. It said the move was part of a wider effort to protect the environment. Now the British newspaper The Sun revealed an internal memo that said the paper straws were not able to be recycled and should be put in the general waste bin.

"While the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups," a McDonald's spokesman told the UK's Press Association news agency, as CNN reported.

So while the straws are technically 100 percent recyclable material, the infrastructure to recycle them does not yet exist. In order to recycle them, they would have to be individually separated from cups and other rubbish.

"They cannot currently be processed by waste solution providers or local authorities unless collected separately," a McDonald's spokesperson wrote to CNBC. The spokesperson added that the paper straw conundrum is part of a broader issue plaguing the waste management industry. "The infrastructure needed to recycle has not kept pace with the emergence of paper straws."

Before anyone advocates a campaign back to plastic straws, keep in mind that infrastructure problems meant McDonald's was also dumping plastic straws into the waste bin, according to CNBC.

The problem started shortly after McDonald's rolled out its paper straws, which drew public condemnation for dissolving in soda and making it difficult to pull up milkshakes. The Independent reported that customers were asking for coffee lids to cover their drinks, which countered the motivation behind the move to paper straws.

In response, McDonald's worked with its straw supplier to create the thicker paper straw.

"We are working with our waste management providers to find a sustainable solution, as we did with paper cups, and so the advice to put paper straws in general waste is therefore temporary," the company said, as Fox News reported. "This waste from our restaurants does not go to landfill but is used to generate energy."

The move away from plastic straws follows a backlash to the product after a 2015 viral video showed in graphic, gory detail the process of extracting a plastic straw from a sea turtle's nose. And the British government has put in place a ban on plastic drinks stirrers, straws and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs starting in April 2020.

"It really can't be that difficult to replace plastic straws," said Ed Davey, the UK's former secretary of Energy and Climate Change. "People will be left wondering where this was just greenwash or a monumental cock-up."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.