Why McDonald’s New Paper Straws Aren't Recyclable
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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They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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