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Happy Meal toys could be scrapped to reduce plastic waste

Jeanette Settembre

Julie Million from Lancaster, Kentucky, has amassed more than 3,000 McDonald's Happy Meal toys since she started her collection in 1979. Now, she says it’s worth around $8,000.

“I wasn’t even thinking of the value. I just started collecting the ones I liked,” Million told FOX Business.

Million, 65, worked at McDonald’s restaurants in Lexington and Nicholasville, Kentucky, for 45 years before she retired this year. She would buy Happy Meals for her kids and save the toys. Her collection includes Disney movie figurines from “Toy Story” and “Lion King,” Beanie Babies, and miniature stuffed animals of retro McDonald’s characters like The Hamburglar. Now, she’ll go into McDonald’s just to buy new toys for around $2 each.

But that could change. Fast-food chains are aiming to cut back on plastic in an effort to be more environmentally friendly. McDonald’s has reportedly cut back on distributing plastic toys for Happy Meals in the U.K. and hired a team to find “ways to lessen the impact of the toys,” the chain’s director of sustainability, Elaine Strunk, told the New York Times. McDonald's started offering British customers the option to choose a toy or a bag of fruit in October, the Times reported.

And Burger King reportedly plans to get rid of all non-biodegradable toys at all of its restaurants by 2025, according to the Times. Spokespersons for McDonald's and Burger King did not immediately return requests for comment.

Burger King told the Times that removing toys in Britain will “reduce its annual plastic footprint by more than 300 tons.” That number may sound like a lot, however, some critics say while it’s a step in the right direction, it barely begins to make a dent in the amount of waste produced by the country in other ways.

Fast-food chains like McDonald's and KFC have faced political pressure to take action on climate change. The BBC reported: "agricultural emissions from meat and dairy could contribute around 70 percent of the total allowable greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

"Give up your Tesla because it's plastic. Let's get off the emotional bandwagon. The Happy Meal police is being out of control," Ed Rensi, former McDonald's CEO, who served as president and CEO of the company from 1991 to 1997, said. "Leave morality to the people."

If chains discontinue plastic toys, antique experts say Million’s collection could be worth even more.

“If they cease production of Happy Meal toys, I would suspect it would have a positive effect on values for those who possess a collection,” Michael Bertoia, an antique toy specialist and president of New Jersey-based Bertoia Auctions, said. "It becomes something of nostalgia."

A collection of all "101 Dalmatians" figurines, which Million has, from 1996 is selling for $80 on eBay. And her Madame Alexander dolls can fetch nearly $70 on eBay and her Looney Tunes cars from 1992 can go for $35 on the resale market. Her entire collection is still in its original packaging, which will likely boost the value even more, Bertoia said.

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"Traditionally toys in their original packaging that are not played with are considered top grade and most desirable. They command a premium compared to those that are used," Bertoia said.

Million says she'll keep some of her favorites, like her beloved Disney figurines that came in movie boxes or her more recent collection of yellow minions from "Despicable Me," and said she was disappointed when she read the news that her Happy Meal toys could be a thing of the past. She said her kids grew up playing with them and when she didn't want to feed them too much fast food, she'd buy just the toys for $2 apiece. The figurines, dolls and stuffed animals, she says, encourage kids to interact with others and spend less time in front of a screen.

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"It encourages imagination in children," Million said.

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