According to consumer advocacy group SumOfUs, about 95 million McDonald's single-use straws end up in the trash globally every day.
"The problem with plastic is that it never disappears. It breaks into smaller and smaller pieces," marine biologist and SumOfUs member Elaine Leung explained at a McDonald's annual meeting last week.
"Although many of you may see plastic straws as a harmless little item, they soon add up and their size means they pose a particular hazard," she observed.
Almost half a million people signed the advocacy group's online petition encouraging McDonald's to help establish the corporate precedent of eliminating the use of plastic straws.
"We continue to work to find a more sustainable solution for plastic straws globally," according to a McDonald's corporate statement.
"In the meantime, we have adopted compostable straws in certain markets to meet regulations," the statement added, noting that some cities and counties — recognizing that corporate environmental responsibility may never happen without legislation to force the issue — have outlawed single-use plastic items.
McDonald restaurants in the UK are increasingly using paper straws instead of plastic, only providing plastic straws to consumers on request.