The two paper straw makers supplying McDonald’s

The UK government has confirmed a ban on the supply of plastic straws starting next April. We spoke to the two leading paper straw makers supplying McDonald’s in the UK and Ireland.

In England, it is estimated that 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used annually.

In fact, 95% of straws are still thought to be plastic. Cleaning up this litter is a costly task that could be avoided if plastic straws were banned.

The final straw

Following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April 2020 in England.

plastic straw - depositphotos
95% of straws are still thought to be plastic – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

It will include exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to use them.

Registered pharmacies will be able to sell plastic straws. Restaurants and pubs won’t be able to display or hand them out, but they will be able to provide them on request.

Plastic is fantastic

For its properties, plastic is fantastic and essential for some industries like healthcare. It is lightweight, strong, flexible and cheap. The problem is not plastic, the problem is plastic waste.

“Plastic is still needed for some items, paper doesn’t work for everything yet,” says Katariina Hietaranta, Head of IR and financial communications at Huhtamäki to The Manufacturer.

Huhtamäki is a global packaging manufacturer with over 17,600 employees scattered across the world. In 2018, the firm’s net sales totaled £2.7bn.

The Finnish firm has opened a new factory based in Northern Ireland and it is the first facility in Ireland to produce sustainable paper straws.

“We saw an opportunity where we could utilise our expertise in paper and so we decided to begin manufacturing paper straws ourselves.”

The environment is lovin’ it

The rise of environmentally friendly products means opportunities and challenges for manufacturers.

“For us, straws are a huge opportunity and we make a lot of them,” Lorenzo Angelucci, managing director at Transcend Packaging, says to The Manufacturer.

paper straws mcdonald's - image courtesy of mcdonald's
McDonald’s has rolled out paper straws in the UK and Ireland  – image courtesy of McDonald’s.

“There is a high demand for sustainable products and we make paper straws, sustainable trays, cartons and more.”

Transcend Packaging’s workforce has grown six-fold from 20 last summer to 130, after it signed a contract to supply, alongside Huhtamäki, paper straws to the 1,361 McDonald’s branches in the UK and Ireland.

It is currently working toward a production goal of three billion straws annually, with plans to expand beyond its Welsh HQ into the US and Europe.

Transcend Packaging is a new and much smaller company, proving that it is not only big packaging players who can manufacture and supply to firms like McDonald’s.

“There are openings for start-ups and innovation-led businesses in the sustainable packaging space, as companies look to use green alternatives driven by consumer demands and regulatory change.

“When there is a disruptive period it provides opportunities and this shift toward sustainable packaging has enabled us to rapidly grow,” Angelucci added.