Rarely recycled, expanded polystyrene foam used in beverage cups and takeout containers is a frequent component of marine litter, breaking down into indigestible pellets, which marine animals mistake for food, resulting in their death.
McDonald’s is committed to sustainability as a core business practice today and the environmental impact of their packaging is a top priority to the company, as mentioned in the statement. According to the company, many efforts are under way to improve the sustainability of their packaging. For example, 64% of all their fiber-based packaging now comes from certified or recycled sources, with a goal of 100% by 2020.
In 2015, McDonald’s announced a global Commitment on Forests across the company’s expansive global supply chain. The Commitment builds upon McDonald’s Global Sustainability Framework and encompasses the entire supply chain and focuses on priority products, for which the company is developing specific time-bound sourcing targets. These include: beef, fiber-based packaging, coffee, palm oil, and poultry.
Response to As You Sow ChallengeAccording to shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, this further step towards sustainability came to pass following engagement by As You Sow. A shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow urging the company to phase out of polystyrene was supported by 32% of shares voted (share value USD 26 billion) in May 2017. McDonald’s phased out foam cups for hot beverages in the United States in 2012, but continued to use them in foreign markets like Hong Kong and the Philippines identified as having high levels of plastics deposition into waterways. It also continued to use foam for cold beverages and food trays in some U.S. markets.
“We congratulate McDonald’s management for removing the last vestiges of polystyrene foam from its global packaging stream,” said Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President at As You Sow, who specializes in waste and recycling issues. “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.” As You Sow refiled its shareholder proposal for 2018 but intends to withdraw it based on this action by the company.
Nine countries and more than 100 U.S. cities or counties have banned or restricted foam packaging. 15 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.