As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group based in Oakland, California, that promotes social and corporate environmental responsibility, announced Jan. 10 that McDonald’s Corp. has agreed to end the use of harmful polystyrene foam packaging globally by the end of this year following engagement by the organization.
Rarely recycled, expanded polystyrene foam used in beverage cups and takeout containers is a frequent component of beach litter that gets broken down into indigestible pellets, which marine animals mistake for food, resulting in sickness and death, the advocacy group says.
McDonald’s phased out foam cups for hot beverages in the U.S. after engagement with As You Sow in 2012 but continued to use them in foreign markets like Hong Kong and the Philippines. It also continued to use foam for cold beverages and food trays in some U.S. markets.
McDonald’s has posted a statement on its corporate website noting that it plans to eliminate foam packaging from its global system by the end of 2018. The company says that “the environmental impact of our packaging is a top priority” and that eliminating foam is an important step “that will continue to raise the bar for our system and our industry.”
Polystyrene has been widely used for single-use containers across the world for decades, but in recent years its negative environmental and health profile have led major companies to drop it. Its hazardous constituent chemicals have been shown to produce waterborne toxins in a short time frame, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that styrene, used in the production of polystyrene, is a possible human carcinogen, As You Sow says.
“We congratulate McDonald’s management for removing the last vestiges of polystyrene foam from its global packaging stream,” Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow, says. “This sends an important message to other quick-service food companies who may still be using foam. We also hope McDonald’s will next turn its attention to other single-use items like plastic straws and cup lids that pose hazards to marine animals and add to the tsunami of plastic waste afflicting world oceans.”
Nine countries and more than 100 U.S. cities or counties have banned or restricted foam packaging. Fifteen major brands including Coca-Cola Co, Danone, Dow Chemical, L’Oreal, Marks & Spencer, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Unilever recommended replacement of polystyrene foam as a packaging material in a report released in 2017 by the New Plastics Economy Project of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
As You Sow refiled its shareholder proposal for 2018 but intends to withdraw it based on this action by the company.