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How To Go Zero Waste at McDonald's

Want to make your next McDonald's visit more zero waste and free from single-use plastic? You CAN do it and here's a few ways you can refuse the waste AND continue to enjoy your Big Mac or Happy Meal.

How To Go Zero Waste at McDonald's

At home, we are trying to get closer to a zero waste lifestyle and this has meant giving up a tonne of singe-use plastic and other items that create so much rubbish.

I also have kids.

Now they really LOVE most of the changes we have made but they don't want to give up everything, including the occasional fast food outings.


If I were perfect, I guess I would just put my foot down and say ''We are NEVER going to McDonald's again!!!" and I know many people have made this decision. Well, I'm not perfect, I love a good burger and I also don't want to be THAT mum that says no to my kids all the time.


I've made a conscious decision to allow them to accept occasional trashy things like choose a box of individually plastic wrapped lunchbox snacks, accept party bags AND get a happy meal toy even though I hate all of these things.

It isn't something we do all the time, but I don't want them to have memories growing up that they weren't allowed to do the things all the other kids do - so we compromise.

Anytime you head to McDonald's you will need to compromise on your zero waste ideals a little. You're going to want to go there at least sometimes, you WILL end up with some trash, BUT you can definitely have a strategy to get a lot less trash with your order.

I wrote this post after an impulsive visit to Macca's. I bought a coffee (my bad for forgetting my keep cup, but trust me, if I wasn't utterly desperate for a caffeine fix I would have gone without) and my little girl had a chocolate sundae. We ended up with SO MUCH RUBBISH for just 2 simple items, giving me major guilt, and as I couldn't recycle in store, I took it all home.

The coffee cup was unrecyclable, and so was the mile long receipt that I didn't need. My daughter kept the sundae cup and spoon for her toy kitchen, I planted a seedling in the cup and used the receipt to make the weekly shopping list.

Overall, the rubbish annoyed me a LOT, so I vowed to do it differently in future.

The next visit I noticed that everyone having a coffee in McDonald's were given throw-away cups.

The staff will automatically provide you with a takeaway cup, so you actually have to make it clear you want a real cup..... and then keep an eye on them so they don't forget.

I had the option to have my food on a bread board which meant no paper bag, no box, no wax paper, although I did get a serviette which I didn't need so I put it in my handbag....always handy if you have kids. This was a much improved approach and made for a happier experience for me.

Should I really be this concerned with recyclable items though?

I do think it's fabulous there is a big shift to more recyclable packaging and the fact that much of it is made from recycled materials BUT this still uses resources to produce and process after using so avoiding if you can is a much better option.

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are critical steps in a zero waste journey, and believe it or not, this can be applied while you still enjoy your favourite junk food. Refuse what you can, reduce anything you can't refuse, reusing is tricky here, and the final option is to recycle.

How To Make Your Next McDonald's Order Less Wasteful:

- Bring Your Own Reusable Coffee Cup (if you do forget, check out these post on How To Recycle Coffee Cups in Australia )

-Bring Your Own insulated smoothie tumbler (with a reusable straw or reusable slushie straw)

- Say No to Cutlery, and bring a spoon

- Absolutely Refuse Straws at all costs, and invest in reusables if you really love them.

(You can find some of my favourites here)

- Request NO condiments and single use sachets like sugar, sauce and milk

- Skip the napkin if you don't need it (although sometimes you might)

- Avoid those stupid cardboard drink holders for multiple drinks

- Select items with the least packaging, or at most recyclable packaging

-Take Your ''waste'' home to recycle properly

(cardboard and paper contaminated with food can go into your green organics bin)

- Ask for NO LID on your coffee, shake or sundae

- Opt for ice-cream in a cone and skip the plastic sundae cups

- If you're ordering one or two things, make it clear you would like it without a paper bag

- Not a fan of pickles (or any other ingredient), request it be left out to reduce food waste heading to landfill

- Avoid supersizing, meal deals and extras. It's a strategy to get us to buy and eat more and can create loads extra waste. If you're still hungry, you can always head back to the counter and order something else.

- Consider whether you really need to go there, maybe there are better options nearby like a local burger joint that has way less rubbish and doesn't advertise to your kids relentlessly

Be Mindful of These Things:

- Some stores will have different rules, so you may have to shop around before you find one that will let you use your own cups.

-I don't think any of the outlets will allow you to bring your own containers for hot food due to food safety. You may have more success with this at the McCafes for cakes and pastries.

-If your reusable coffee cup is an unusual size, this may be rejected too.

-Staff might not really ''get'' where you are coming from yet, and you need to be OK with that.

-Staff might actually be rude to you and make fun of you! That has happened to a few people I know, and don't let this go. Stay polite, but consider reporting to the store manager and remember YOU are the customer and you don't need to tolerate attitude from teenagers about the fact you don't want a straw.

Lower Waste Happy Meals

- Request items to be left out like the drinks, chips, sauce or whatever else is likely to not be consumed and thrown away

-When you eat in store, you can skip the box

-Sometimes kids really only want to visit the playground and not eat, just let them

- You can just ask for the food and NO toy (I'm well aware adults like happy meals too, but probably don't want a toy too!)

- You can also ask for the toy and NO meal. By the way, these toys can almost always be found in op-shops within a week of being released too, so don't sweat it if your kid is focused on collecting a particular toy.

-Negotiate with your kids

I play the ''would you rather....'' game and it goes a little like this.....Would you rather have a (insert really awesome food/free activity here). This could be a triple decker ice-cream in a cone from your own freezer, home cooked pancakes, a chocolate frog or a visit to a lolly shop where you can BYO bag. It doesn't even need to be food related, a trip to a favourite playground, or letting them be the boss for an hour can give you great bargaining power.

All these tactics mean that we probably buy 1 or 2 happy meals a year and limit the waste when we do, and everyone is happy, except Macca's I guess.

When You Go To McDonald's with Non-Zerowasters......

-If you're heading there with ''normal'' people (and I use this term loosely) , please don't lecture them or tell them off if they are using disposables. The worst thing you can do is try to bully them or make them feel bad about their choices. This might lead to them not wanting to hangout with you or just rebelling by using extra disposables just to prove a point.

- You can lead by example, and certainly discuss it openly. When they see the efforts you're making they may also jump on board one day with simple changes like refusing a straw or bringing a Keep cup

-If you have a spare keep cup on you, why not ask if they want to borrow it (Or order for them and impose your keep cup by stealth)

-Offer to take their trash and recycle it for them

When You Get Caught OffGuard....

There are going to be times when your requests are ignored, forgotten or not accepted. See if you can reuse or recycle anything and do your best with the situation you find yourself in, it isn't the worst thing that could happen to you.

If you can identify how or why it happened, this is great as it gives you a starting point to create a better plan for next time. See if you can change something to prevent it or maybe try a different approach. For example if they make your coffee in a disposable cup and pour it into your keep cup next time you can ask them not too.

If it's a store you plan to visit regularly, get in touch with them if you're having particular issues.

If you want to a little more about what they are doing well and what they can do better, check out this post on Are McDonald's Really Becoming More Sustainable?

How do you reduce your waste at McDonald's?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and any tips you might have.

For more great tips, head to Zero Waste Takeaway Food and



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