For many who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, those little toys from kids’ fast-food meals are a nostalgic part of childhood.
But today, many parents — and even their children — are hoping restaurants will make some big changes to those little novelty items.
A Change.org petition about kids' meal toys that was started by two girls in the United Kingdom about eight months ago has since garnered over 330,000 signatures. The goal? To get McDonald’s and Burger King to stop including plastic toys in the meals they serve to younger diners.
Sisters Ella and Caitlin McEwan, aged 9 and 7, were inspired to start the petition after learning in school all about the environment and the global problem concerning plastic waste. “It made us very sad to see how plastic harms wildlife and pollutes the ocean, and we want to change this,” they wrote online.
The girls said they both like to eat at fast food chains but acknowledged that many of the toys featured in the kids’ meals are made and packaged with plastic.
“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 two wrote.
The petition states that it’s not enough for these big companies to make recyclable plastic toys — but rather they shouldn’t be making toys out of plastic at all.
Hundreds of thousands of people agree with the two sisters. “The toys are a waste of money and resources, as well as adding to our world of waste products,” one signer of the petition wrote.
Another commented, “Single use plastics should be banned and these toys are useless and become landfill waste. McDonald's needs to lead the way in banning them.”
A McDonald’s spokesperson confirmed to TODAY Food that the reducing the use of plastics is a very important issue to the company. “We have an active global working group exploring the production of more sustainable toy options,” they said.
A representative for Burger King was not immediately available for comment.
In the U.K., McDonald's said that it will be reducing the number of hard plastic toys given away in its Happy Meals during a six month promotion period that will run later this year. The spokesperson added that during this timeframe — which is not permanent — the company will provide different options for kids' meals including board games, books and soft toys.
They added that the promotion “will serve as a test to understand more about what customers in this market want while we continue to execute our global work.”
“While we cannot provide details of our Happy Meal promotions beyond the end of 2019 at this stage, we remain committed to reducing plastic across our business,” they said.
The company has recently switched to using paper straws throughout the U.K. and is testing the change in some U.S. restaurants, too.
Customer pressures over environmental concerns aren't just affecting fast food chains, of course.
Other companies are changing their ways to adapt to the times, as well. For example, PepsiCo recently announced that it will start rolling out Aquafina water in aluminum cans in 2020 to reduce single-use plastic containers.
And some companies are even turning to humor to help out the environment, like the grocery store in Canada which tried to discourage the use of plastic bags by printing embarrassing slogans on its single-use bags.
Hey, whatever it takes.