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Dunna Chuck Bruck challenges fast food giant

One of the McDonald's "happy meal" balloons that has washed ashore on Shetland's beaches. Photo courtesy of Jane Outram.

AN ANTI-LITTER campaign group in Shetland is calling on global fast food giant McDonald’s to change its ways after finding four separate “happy meal” balloons on isles beaches in the first three months of 2015.

Environmental awareness group Dunna Chuck Bruck has raised the issue with the corporation – also pointing out that its nearest chain is over 160 kilometres from Shetland on the Scottish mainland.

Shetland Amenity Trust environmental awareness officer Jane Outram discovered the balloons and posted two of them back to McDonald’s in the middle of February, eventually receiving a reply this week.

But the company claims there are “expectations for play items such as balloons” to be made available for children visiting its restaurants. It has not pledged to take any significant steps in response, and claims the balloons it uses are biodegradable – a point on which Jane, along with many others, begs to differ.

McDonald's is the world's biggest burger chain, serving tens of millions of customers every day.

She told Shetland News: “I’ve found four happy meal balloons on four different beaches in the South Mainland (Scatness, Quendale, Spiggie and Boddam) since January and I saw it as an opportunity to let a big company like MacDonald’s know what happens to their freebies when they leave their restaurants.

“People are becoming increasingly aware of the hazards of balloons and balloon ribbons to wildlife – fragments of balloon are mistaken for food and ingested and animals can become entangled in the ribbons.

“I have to stress that obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anyone’s fun, so we have suggested some litter-free alternatives that would be equally fun for their youngest customers.

“Litter-free fun could include giant bubbles or a bubble machine, which I’m sure would attract people to their restaurants and would arguably be more fun than holding a balloon on a stick!”

Jane said the company claimed it has sourced biodegradable balloons, but the ones washed up on Shetland’s shores were dated 2014 and “showed no evidence of degradation despite the distances travelled and duration at sea”.

She pointed to research which “strongly suggests that the term ‘biodegradable’ when applied to balloons is little more than ‘green-washing’ or misleading by balloon manufacturers”.

In her letter she told McDonald’s she was “heartened” to read about “all the fantastic things” the company was doing to reduce its environmental impact.

Jane suggested the company could introduce “one simple change” that would have a “huge positive impact on wildlife and our environment”.

“Choosing not to give away balloons with happy meals and at McDonald’s activity days will not only build on your impressive waste reduction record, it will significantly reduce litter and ultimately make McDonald’s a leading example to all businesses.”

Dunna Chuck Bruck points to research contradicting McDonald's claim that it uses biodegradable balloons.

“We can understand the shock and surprise when finding such items at such a faraway location from the UK mainland,” he wrote.In its response McDonald’s customer services manger Joe Cuffaro thanked Jane for sharing her findings, but there is no suggestion it will take any meaningful action to prevent balloons from polluting the environment.

“As with any materials and packaging that is offered for customers using our establishments, we do urge for them to be disposed of in a sensible and responsible manner.”

Cuffaro continued: “Certainly, this is also the expectations [sic] for play items such as balloons, which are available for young children visiting our restaurants. [It] seems some have been let loose and have managed to be carried over by the weather fronts all the way to the Shetlands [sic], but [we] appreciate this would be unsightly when spotting them in such an environment.

“Please be assured we will always do all we can to remind our customers to be mindful towards the use and disposal of such materials.”

Responding to a request for comment from Shetland News, a McDonald’s spokeswoman said: “We work closely with the franchisees and operators of our coastal stores to ensure they only hand out balloons on sticks, to prevent the immediate impact they can have on the local environment if discarded.

“We also worked with our suppliers a number of years ago to ensure that all our balloons are made from biodegradable material.”