Pressure mounts on fast-food giants to cut down use of plastics

A Kiwi fast-food joint wants its global counterparts to stop polluting New Zealand with plastic.

McDonald's is one of the fast-food giants to commit to making 100 percent of its packaging from renewable, recycled, or certified sources by 2025.

But one of their most needless plastic products is proving too popular to get rid of.

Sustainable Coastlines' Camden Howitt finds evidence of the fast-food industry on our beaches every day.

"They're a huge player in that game and a huge touchpoint for consumers every day," Howitt told Newshub.

New Zealand is littered with more than 258 million litres of takeaway containers and over the past decade, Howitt's seen no improvement.

Walking on a beach, the sight of straw after straw is never too far.

But Kiwi establishment Better Burger trying to do better.

"Nothing goes to a customer that is plastic," operations manager Josh Harre says.

Their cups, lids, straws, even their water bottles are 100 percent commercially compostable. That is, however, only if they're disposed of in the instore bins.

But still, with just five stores, in two years their plant-based alternative has saved the production of four million units of plastic packaging.

And they think their global counterparts could do more too.

"If we can do it with our whole range, why not start with straws, why not start with a napkin or a single bag.

Which brings us to McDonald's - New Zealand's most littered takeout brand.

With 167 restaurants, volume is part of the problem and part of the excuse for not having fixed the problem.

"We serve about 1.6 million people a week, so there's a practical thing, there are not enough straws in the world, fibre straws, there's not enough to supply us in the world," spokesperson Simon Kenny told Newshub.

So it's baby steps.

At the moment, they're trialling the fibre straws, wooden cutlery and recyclable cups.

But plastic pollution researcher Trisia Farrelly says recycling is not enough.

"We're actually looking at around 40 percent increase in plastic pollution in the next 10 years so they're upping their game," the Massey Anthropologist said.

The priority needs to be cutting out needless plastic altogether.

As well as the plastic used for packaging, McDonald's is also the world's largest toy distributor, selling 1.5 billion Happy Meal toys each year.

"They're literally played with for maybe 10 minutes, or a week at the most before they end up under the sofa or in the bin... They're just useless bits of plastic that we don't need," Dr Farrelly said.

McDonald's does offer a book alternative, albeit, wrapped in plastic, but still, 90 percent of parents are still choosing the toy for their kids.

Burger King has already quit the plastic toy game but didn't want to discuss any of their sustainability initiatives with Newshub. Neither did Restaurant Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Carls Jr.