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McDonald’s to Switch to Paper Straws in Britain as Country Turns Against Plastic

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LONDON — The queen has backed efforts to curb the use of plastics. The Church of England has encouraged a similar push. The British government plans to legislate to require it.

Increasingly, companies here in Britain and elsewhere are joining that campaign, too. On Friday, McDonald’s became the latest to do so. The fast food chain outlined plans to phase out plastic straws across its 1,361 restaurants in Britain, which currently use 1.8 million plastic straws a day, by the end of next year.

The drive to reduce the use of plastics has accelerated considerably in Britain. A million birds and more than 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste each year, according to the British government. But a recent BBC documentary series, “Blue Planet II,” dramatically increased awareness through scenes in which birds traveled thousands of miles to find food for their young only to accidentally feed them plastic.

In previous years, British authorities have forced stores to charge for plastic bags and banned the manufacturing of products containing plastic microbeads. The government has also proposed going further, with a ban on the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton swabs with plastic stems.

Britain isn’t alone in its efforts.

Prompted as much by environmental imperatives as by China’s sudden refusal to take in vast quantities of garbage for processing, other places have moved against plastic. The European Union has proposed bans on plastic products like single-use drinks containers and sticks for balloons as part of its effort to reduce marine litter by 30 percent by 2020. More than 40 countries around the world have introduced measures to restrict or reduce the use of plastic bags.

Businesses and other organizations have also taken up the cause. Bacardihas removed straws and stirrers from cocktails at company events. Upmarket supermarket WaitroseLord’s Cricket Ground in London and London City Airport, as well as several food and coffee chains, have pledged to get rid of straws and reduce use of plastic. Ikea has committed to removing all single-use plastics from its products and stores by 2020.

Greenpeace, the environmental group, welcomed the move by McDonald’s, but called on the company to implement it worldwide and reduce its use of plastics in other packaging.

“It’s great that McDonalds is taking this seriously, but there’s other things they can be doing,” said Fiona Nicholls, an oceans campaigner at the nonprofit. “They’re putting enormous volumes of plastic waste on the market. People should be able to enjoy a McFlurry, or whatever, without having to think, ‘I’ve just created some pollution.’”

At one central London outlet where paper straws were already in use, lunchtime customers voiced support for the move.

“I’m in favor if it achieves the endgame,” said David Arivo, a besuited lawyer who was about to return to work. Mr. Arivo complained that his paper straw got soggy as he finished his cup of Fanta, but said he was nevertheless in favor of the change, noting that the scenes in “Blue Planet II” were “quite horrific.”

Another customer, David Matthews, said he had similarly seen the impact of plastic pollution on television programs. Mr. Matthews, a 61-year-old construction worker, added as he tucked into a cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake that his paper straw could do with some improvement.

“It doesn’t flow up the straw as easily,” he said. “You can also taste the paper. It’s a good idea, though.”