As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group based in Oakland, California, that promotes social and corporate environmental responsibility, has refiled a resolution with McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Illinois, for 2018 urging the company to assess the environmental impact of its polystyrene use in beverage cups and food trays. The same proposal was voted on by shareholders earlier this year and received the support of nearly one-third of shares voted.
Polystyrene has been widely used for single-use containers across the world; but, in recent years, its negative environmental and health profile has led major companies to drop it. McDonald’s phased out its use for hot beverage cups in the U.S. in 2013, but still uses it in overseas markets.
Rarely recycled, polystyrene is found on ocean beach cleanups frequently, As You Sow says. The material breaks down into indigestible pellets, which marine wildlife often mistake for food. According to As You Sow, its hazardous constituent chemicals have been shown to accumulate water-borne toxins in a short time frame, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, has determined that styrene, used in the production of polystyrene, is a possible human carcinogen.
Nine countries and more than 100 U.S. cities or counties have banned or restricted foam packaging. Leaders of 15 major companies, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo., Procter & Gamble and Unilever, all have recommended phasing out polystyrene for packaging applications.
“McDonald’s cannot afford to fall behind other companies in phasing out polystyrene,” Conrad MacKerron, vice president at As You Sow, says. “The McDonald’s brand is put at risk with branded cups found on beaches and waterways, where the environmental hazard they present is plain to see.”
Actiam, a responsible fund and asset manager headquartered in The Netherlands, co-filed the proposal. “We appreciate the steps that McDonald’s has taken to decrease use of polystyrene foam,” Maxime Molenaar, responsible investment officer for Actiam, says. “However, we are concerned about the continuing use of the material in some markets and the absence of a policy commitment to complete phaseout of polystyrene foam in packaging.”
JLens, a network of Jewish faith-based investors based in New York City and San Francisco, also co-filed the proposal. If the proposal appears on the company’s proxy, it would be voted on in May 2018.