The Meltdown

Burger King UK’s campaign to end the distribution of plastic toys with children’s meals


Estee Yi

While Samama Moontaha ’21 believes that Burger King’s initiative will be successful in the long run and significantly reduce the additional plastic waste that these toys create. Still, she is drawn to the nostalgic element of the toys and their connection to her childhood.

You’re a kid again and it’s lunchtime. You’ve stepped into a fast food restaurant and begged your parents to buy you a kid’s meal just so you could get the toy. You eye the plastic figures in the display case on the side, hoping for that new movie character that you just need to have. Little did you know that the production of that toy plays a role in the accumulation of plastic waste and pollution. Fast forward to today, new initiatives from several fast food chains could change the way that meal toys are distributed.

In the United Kingdom, two sisters created a petition in June of 2019 which directly referenced fast food chains McDonalds and Burger King. The girls, aged eight and ten, requested that the fast food chains stop giving away plastic toys with their children’s meals because of the adverse effects of the single-use plastic on the environment. The petition currently has over half a million signatures and counting. 

After the petition went viral, Burger King announced an initiative known as “The Meltdown.” The chain vowed to stop including plastic toys in kid’s meals as well as collect plastic toys to recycle and repurpose. “Amnesty bins” were set up at Burger King’s 500+ locations in the UK and consumers were encouraged to bring their old toys. By December, the toys would be melted down and repurposed into meal trays and playground equipment by the recycling firm Pentatonic. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Burger King projected that this campaign would save 320 tons of plastic per year. The chain plans to eliminate non-biodegradable toys from all its restaurants by 2025.

Similar projects have been enacted internationally. Last year in Japan, McDonald’s around the country collected old toys and recycled them into plastic trays, which the chain uses in an effort to be environmentally responsible. McDonald’s has made no comment about whether they will discontinue the distribution of plastic toys, but announced that they would allow customers to switch their Happy Meal toys out for a bag of fruit or a book, although small, steps are being taken towards environmental stability. 

In the United States, however, toys are viewed by many as a marketing strategy to encourage young children to eat fast food from these chains, despite high obesity rates among adolescents. This particular argument doesn’t seem to spark much change in the way that the chains conduct business, as legislation to ban the distribution of plastic toys at food chains are being thwarted by loopholes and lobbies by fast-food companies.

Projects like that of Burger King’s Meltdown and Japanese McDonald’s chains are  significant steps in reducing plastic waste in the environment, especially given the pressure from various environmental groups, politicians, and of course, evidence of the detrimental effects of climate change on the environment seen in too many parts of the world. According to National Geographic, around eight million tons of plastic waste escape into the oceans from coastal nations annually, which is the equivalent of putting five garbage bags of trash on every foot of coastline around the world. And sadly, less than 20% of all plastic is recycled globally. This plastic waste contributes to the worsening climate greatly, and it affects people and animals world-wide.

The Meltdown aims to benefit our environment, but has received mixed responses. Many wonder if a similar initiative can take place in the United States. Samama Moontaha ’21 feels that the campaign will have a drastic positive impact on the environment. However, she acknowledges that the toys also serve as a strong marketing technique and cannot help but be drawn to their nostalgic element. “The small snacks were able to turn the worst day into the best, and the toys were something that we would treasure and remember forever. There is a reason why happy meals bring so much money to a company,” said Moontaha. I can’t help but feel an important connection to it. These small additions and memories made my childhood golden, and it’s removal in society really upsets me, because it denies the same opportunity for future generations.”

I can’t help but feel an important connection to it. These small additions and memories made my childhood golden,” said Samama Moontaha ’21.