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McDonald's Happy Meal toys to get big makeover: What fast food chain is changing

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Leading burger chain McDonald's on Tuesday announced a transition to reducing plastic used in its iconic Happy Meal toys.

The fast-food giant is aiming to reduce the use of virgin fossil fuel-based plastic in all Happy Meal toys around the world by the end of 2025. 

McDonald's said since 2018 it has already reduced its use of virgin fossil fuel plastic in toys by 30% in markets such as France, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In those markets, McDonald's worked toward more innovative toys.

McDonald's kid-aimed Happy Meals made their debut more than four decades ago. Over the years the meals have featured toys pegged to movies and movie characters, and are paired with burgers or chicken nuggets, french fries, a drink and apple slices.

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Shifting to more "renewable, recycled or certified materials" for toys, McDonald's said in a news release, will result in a 90% reduction of plastics. The chain said it is working with suppliers, families, play experts and engineers to introduce more "sustainable, innovative designs and help drive demand for recycled materials."

Jenny McColloch, the chain's chief sustainability officer, said in a news release that the shift in sustainability reflects its next generation of customers who "care deeply about protecting the planet and what we can do to help make our business more sustainable."

"Transitioning to more renewable, recycled, and certified materials for our Happy Meal toys will result in an approximately 90% reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use against a 2018 baseline, McColloch said. "For comparison, the average person uses more than 220 pounds of plastic annually, so this is equivalent to more than 650,000 individuals eliminating plastics from their lives each year."

Here's what they'll do

At the forefront, the goal will remain to keep the "fun" in its Happy Meals.

The new toys will still have interactive play but with some, like board games, plastic game pieces will be made with plant-derived or recycled material. Plastic movie characters or superheroes such as Batman or Minions will be 3D figures that can be "built and decorated" rather than a plastic figurine. 

McDonald's is also looking at ways to recycle the old toys to make new restaurant trays and playgrounds. The recycling of old toys is already done in the United Kingdom and Japan, according to McColloch. 

Worldwide, McDonald's sells more than a billion Happy Meals a year.

Contact Detroit Free Press food writer Sue Selasky and send food and restaurant news to: 313-222-6872 or sselasky@freepress.com. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.

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