McDonald’s has agreed to end the use of polystyrene foam packaging globally by the end of this year, says shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. A proposal filed by As You Sow urging the company to phase out of polystyrene was supported by 32% of shares voted in May 2017, the group says.
McDonald’s phased out foam cups for hot beverages in the US in 2012, but continued to use them in foreign markets like Hong Kong and the Philippines, high levels of these plastics have been found in waterways in those countries, As You Sow says. The fast food giant also continued to use foam for cold beverages and food trays in some US markets.
“Rarely recycled, expanded polystyrene foam used in beverage cups and takeout containers is a frequent component of beach litter, breaking down into indigestible pellets, which marine animals mistake for food, resulting in deaths of marine animals,” an As You Sow release claimed.
McDonald’s has posted a statement on its corporate website that it plans to eliminate foam packaging from its global system by the end of 2018. The company said “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 accumulate water borne 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.
Nine countries and more than 100 US 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.