Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any scientific information contained within this essay should not be treated as fact, this content is to be used for educational purposes only and may contain factual inaccuracies or be out of date.

Environmental Issues with McDonalds in the UK

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3799 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

Reference this


McDonald’s is one of the largest fast food chains, operating in over 100 countries serving approximately 69 million customers a day (Rosenberg, 2018). McDonald’s is classified as a franchising company, as over 90% of its restaurants owned and operated by franchises (McDonald’s, 2018), this identifies the volume of stakeholders that influence the way the restaurant is run. However, through their process the negative impacts they have on the environment have become evident, which is highlighted in their recent environmental report. Consequently, they have now taken an active approach and progress has started to be made to reverse the negative impacts. However, McDonald’s do identify that there is still a lot more they can do to become more sustainable in the future (McDonald’s, 2018).  This essay will discuss the major environmental issues associated with McDonald’s within the UK. Including their use of packaging, specifically focusing on plastics, as well as deforestation. The essay will follow on to discuss the responses to each issue, before ending with any recommendations to reduce the impact McDonald’s have on the environment.

Packaging (Plastic)

The vast amount of packaging that McDonald’s use in their 1300 restaurants within the UK (McDoanld’s, 2018) poses a huge threat to the environment which can be impacted negatively as a result. This has been recognised by customers who have demanded for packaging to become more environmentally friendly. Due to their mass scale a large amount of packaging is used and disposed of daily. If it was more sustainable it would ensure that the environment is not negatively affected in the future (Vaughan,2018).

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

The excessive amount of plastic used by the restaurant does continue to threaten the environment especially through their use of McFlurry lids, cup lids, and plastic straws, which cannot be recycled. As a result, this packaging often ends up in landfill taking around 400 years to degrade (Parker, 2017). Some plastic can be incinerated, “each kg of plastic burnt emits 6 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere” contributing to global warming and climate change (timeforchange, 2018, p.1). However, lots of the plastic ends up in oceans, which releases harmful toxins as they break down. It has been estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than there will be fish (Parker, 2017). BBC News (2018) has released that McDonald’s use over 1.8 million plastic straws everyday within the UK. These are often mistaken to be food by sea birds, turtles and fish, which puts these animals at risk and can ultimately threaten the survival of these species (Strawless Ocean, 2018). In the wake of Blue Planet II, scenes emerged of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nostril, this was publicised across all forms of social media (Densham, 2017). This type of awareness has the potential for customers to demand a more sustainable approach from restaurants like McDonald’s. Customers requested for the chain to use less packaging, which was sourced responsibly and designed to be taken care of after use (BBC News, 2018, p.1). As a result, McDonald’s have listened to their customers to help improve their sustainability in the future.

McDonald’s have responded to this issue in a similar way to their competitors. This indicates ‘Herd Behaviour’ which was developed by Trotter (1919). McDonald’s have started to phase out their use of plastic straws once other companies like Costa Coffee, Pizza Express, and JD Wetherspoon had replaced theirs to a paper alternative (BBC News, 2018). It could be argued that McDonald’s have made their decision based on the actions of their competitors (Trotter, 1919). McDonald’s is perceived to be in the process of changing their plastic straws to paper alternatives after a successful trial within the UK (BBC News 2018). In local stores this is still not in place. Initially according to Parsons (2016), the chain tried a new technique of leaving all straws behind the counter and only distributing them to customers if asked. However, due to the nature of the cup and the way it can be used there are few alternatives. Therefore, this technique would not give consumers the ability to drink effectively outside of the restaurant. However, the use of a paper straw still encourages consumer behaviour and leads to the expectation that a straw will be offered in every drink, this behaviour needs to change.

Collaboration is another response McDonald’s have undertaken to reduce the negative impacts their cups have on the environment. Therefore, the potential collaboration with Starbucks to launch Next Gen Cup is a promising idea. This would enable the two companies to work together to create a cup within the next 3 years which is fully recyclable and compostable (Wilson, 2018). The cup will include the option of having a lid and straw to go with it to make the product more versatile, both in store and on the go. The collaboration is underway after recent data emerged that the two companies distribute 4% of cups used annually and represent two of the three most popular food chains in the world (Wilson,2018, p.1). However, this new launch could be the response to a smart green marketing campaign, as McDonald’s have been “estimated to save $6 million a year” due to some of the waste reduction schemes they have implemented over the previous 30 years (Baertlein, 2018, p.1). McDonald’s have insisted that this collaboration is an opportunity to solve a global issue, rather than gaining additional profit. They state that the materials are being optimised for impact not cost. A change of packaging is thought to act as a source of comparative advantage, which may cause some companies to withhold information from one another, as discussed by Porter and Millar (1985). However, as McDonald’s are just changing the material of their packaging it is likely that this will not provide the company with this advantage (Wilson, 2018). Therefore, if the cup is implemented effectively it has the potential to benefit the environment due to the mass audience McDonald’s and Starbucks reach.

In order to aid the environment in the long-term, McDonald’s need to improve their packaging and remain innovative to ensure their collaboration to create a fully recyclable and compostable cup is a success. It can be argued that some companies will not be willing to share ideas with one another, so it is important that McDonald’s continue to invest in environmental projects such as The Next Gen Cup. This will show customers that McDonald’s recognise the need to make a difference to the environment.  Projects have the potential to improve both the marine environment and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide through incineration. If successful, this is a long-term solution consistent with McDonald’s new environmental plan to have “100% sustainable packaging by 2025” (Chapman 2018, p.1). The company have the potential to lead the creation of a more environmentally friendly cup that could be distributed to food related industries globally, therefore aiding the environment in the future.


McDonald’s are committed to ending deforestation, by 2030 they have set a goal to eliminate deforestation from their global supply chain. To achieve this goal, they need to work with non-governmental organisations, governments, suppliers, as well as stakeholders (McDonald’s, 2018). In the past, McDonald’s have promoted the rapid devastation of forests in the Bolivian Amazon and Brazilian Savanna, as a result of the chicken McDonald’s purchase from Cargill. Imported soy is fed to these animals which is referred to as a product of “forest crime” (Vidal, 2017, p.1). The imported soy is bought from large-scale agriculture businesses that illegally burn and clear large areas of native forests to create space for their plantations (Gross,2017). From 2003-2006 70,000 km2 of the Amazon had been destroyed, the space created was used directly for soya farming (Greenpeace, 2006). Deforestation also poses threats to society, as the burning of forests produces high amounts of carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere. Consequently, this has restricted the growth of the vegetation in Brazil killing around “50%’ of it in the area” (Gross and Gross, 2017, p.1). The expansion of the plantation occurs at the expense of biodiversity in the area, causing the potential extinction of beetles, birds and plants (WWF, 2018).

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Back in 2006, Greenpeace released a report about the negative impact soya production had on the environment and how it was seen to be the leading force of deforestation in the Amazon (Langert, 2018). The practices of McDonald’s were exposed to the rest of the world through reports expressing the negative impact these have on the environment. Consequently, the restaurant became invaded by protestors, dressed as chickens carrying chain saws, this social theory movement led to the Amazon Soy Moratorium. The main objective of this was to prevent soy traders located in Brazil purchasing and selling their produce from farms that were associated with deforestation (Skar, 2015). The Amazon Soy Moratorium contributed to a 50% fall in the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon (Langert, 2018). Greenpeace started at campaign targeted solely at McDonald’s due to their global scale, which would therefore encourage Tesco and Krispy Kreme who were conducting similar practices to follow in McDonald’s footsteps (Langert, 2018). McDonald’s responded favourably and as a result collaborated productively with Greenpeace to make a difference. It became the first voluntary zero deforestation initiative in the world, which complied with the International Sustainable Development Goals (Skar, 2015). This initiative contributed to the implementation of schemes to reduce deforestation like Indonesia’s paper capacity and pulp and Brazilians cattle industry (Skar, 2015, p.1). However, in order to achieve McDonald’s goal of eliminating deforestation by 2030 (McDonald’s, 2018), they need to focus on the supply of their beef. The company state that they are focusing on the deforestation acts of their top 10 beef producing countries. These countries supply 85% of the total beef McDonald’s purchase (Kaye, 2017, p.1).  However, the origin of the additional 15% of beef supplied has not been mentioned, McDonald’s have remained quiet on this situation, but the hopes of them eliminating deforestation altogether remains questionable.

Even though McDonald’s have successfully implemented a scheme with Greenpeace to eradicate deforestation, the destruction they caused prior to this is not recoverable. In the US, McDonald’s did start a scheme where every time a happy meal was bought, customers would receive a code. When these were entered online, McDonald’s would plant up to 100,000 trees (WebProNews, 2011). This scheme did not reach the UK and it can be argued to be a corporate greenwashing technique. For trees to be planted, customers had to purchase a McDonald’s product, resulting in the company making profit out of it, rather than trying to reverse the damage they had already committed to the environment (WebProNews, 2011). However, if a scheme was put in place in the UK to replant trees in Brazil this could have positive impacts. Trees can digest carbon dioxide, improve the air quality, as well as create habitats for endangered species. A campaign of this scale could potentially encourage other companies, as well as customers to ‘go green’ and take steps to help improve the environment themselves.


To conclude, due to the scale of the company, McDonald’s need to take account for the environment when they under-go business decisions. McDonald’s and other global companies need to recognise that natural resources are finite and ensure they do not overlook the value of nature. This was developed by Hardin (1968, p.1243) who put forward a view that “the world is finite”, therefore depleting resources have the potential to accelerate the rate of global warming and climate change. From this essay, the consensus is that to an extent McDonald’s have responded appropriately to the impacts, however their responses are limited. McDonald’s are making progress to reduce their use of plastic through new schemes like Next Gen Cup (HakemZadeh and Baba, 2016) and successful collaborations with Greenpeace to help prevent deforestation (Skar, 2015). However, since the successful implementation of The Amazon Soy Moratorium in 2006, McDonald’s have not been as visibly committed to making up for their wrong doings in the past.  If they were to build upon the recommendations provided within this essay, they have the potential to be on track to reach their sustainable goals for 2030 (McDonald’s,2018).

Word count – 2036



Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: