In Japan, Happy Meal toy recycling helps prevent waste and teaches lessons

April 27, 2021

In Japan, Happy Meal toy recycling helps prevent waste and teaches lessons

It isn’t easy to ask children to part with a toy, even one they don’t play with anymore. 

But McDonald’s Japan found a way to help kids understand the benefits of sustainability – and reduce plastic waste – by inviting them to say goodbye to old Happy Meal toys for a good cause and a new adventure: recycling 

Working with the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, McDonald’s Japan initiated a toy recycling program to collect plastic Happy Meal toys and convert them into restaurant serving trays. 

What started as a pilot project several years ago, is now a year-round program: Customers can deposit toys into special kid-friendly collection bins located in all of Japan’s 2,900 McDonald’s restaurants, encouraging families to recycle an old Happy Meal toy when they visit for a new one. 

“We are pleased toy recycling has now become a year-round program with the engagement of Japanese customers,” says Jonathan Kushner, Vice President, Corporate Relations, McDonald’s Japan. “It’s great to see parents and children in Japan take the opportunity to think about the environment and engage in a meaningful conversation through this initiative.” 

Delivery trucks returning from restaurants (preventing an extra trip and, with it, extra fuel emissions) take the collected toys to shredding facilities where they’re broken down into different materials. Some of the plastic is pelletized for use in producing trays; remaining materials, including paper and metal, are recycled via other waste streams.

In 2018, the first year of the program, McDonald’s Japan collected around 1.27 million used plastic toys that were turned into over 165,000 trays. In 2019, we expanded the program and collected 3.4 million used plastic toys, followed by about 3 million toys in 2020.

Today it’s one of the largest projects to recycle plastic toys in Japan and helps create environmental awareness among our youngest customers.

Check out other ways we’re rethinking the lifecycle of used plastic Happy Meal toys, like recycling them into playgrounds in the UK and Ireland. Both markets, as well as McDonald’s France), have removed plastic toys from its Happy Meal menu.

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