McDonald’s Major Step to Drop Foam Cups will Drive Sustainable Packaging


The world’s largest fast food & restaurant chain – McDonald’s – has recently made an announcement to stop the use of foam cups & polystyrene packaging, which represents 2% of its overall packaging, for cold beverages by 2019. The large cold drink containers that represent around 2% of overall company’s packaging amounts to million-dollar worth of annual spending on cups. This would be the first time the company has taken a steadfast initiative towards environmental protection and packaging sustainability. By the end of 2020, the company aims at using recycled, eco-friendly and fiber-based packaging products sourced from its authorized vendors. McDonald’s has openly committed to stop the use of polystyrene-based beverage containers to the entirety.

Earlier in 2012, McDonald’s had launched a pilot program to phase out the use of polystyrene beverage cups.  The company has already dropped off Styrofoam containers for food packaging. This is attributed to environmental impact of polystyrene based food and drinks containers that continues to remain in the ecosystem for thousands of years. The EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) report on solid waste recycling identifies the reprocessing of polystyrene cups as negligible.

As You Sow’s Inputs

Later in 2015, a report by Natural resources Defense Council and environment NGO – ‘As You Sow’ – stated that major food companies including McDonald’s are not fully committed to the four pillars of packaging sustainability namely, shift to reusable packaging, material use and recyclability, recycled content, and providing boost to the recycling of material. Increasing usage of single-use plastic packaging remains as a major eco-challenge among the restaurant businesses, and forerunners such as McDonald’s have not designed their business model by taking recyclability into consideration. Thus, continuous discarding of single-use plastic products in marine environment has put the marine wildlife in jeopardy, particularly with the increasing death rate among fishes,  whales, turtles and marine birds. Unfortunately, the ocean fauna feeds on plastic pellets mistaking it for food. Also, continuous deposition of chemicals released from non-recyclable plastic leads to rapid accumulation of waterborne toxins. Moreover, the NGO, also reported that IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), a part of the WHO (World Health Organization) has concluded that styrene which is used in polystyrene production, is carcinogenic for human consumption.

Reasons of Dropping Foam Cups

Thereby, shareholder activities in advocacy group of As You Sow have urged McDonald’s Corp. to assess the environmental impact due to its use of foam cups and packaging in food & beverages cups and trays. The shareholder advocacy group strongly focuses on McDonald’s in order to ban the use of non-recyclable plastic completely. This initiative has compelled other major companies in food industry and packaging landscape to take accountability for postconsumer collection of discarded single-use plastic containers, and to recycle them. This can be achieved by stringent implementation of policies by environment regulatory bodies. Thus, major companies in food and restaurant industry are required to adopt more recyclable raw materials for food and beverage packaging along with financial responsibility to treat postconsumer collected waste. Such decision of McDonald’s to help reduce use of non-recyclable polystyrene in packaging is expected to encourage other major companies across the globe in reducing deposition of plastic waste in oceans. The undertaking indicates a growing support for the use of recyclable fiber-based packaging materials for the foreseeable future.

Robert Lewis

Robert graduated from Brandman University, where he got his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Born in Massachusetts, Robert’s family moved to Kentucky in 2005 where he spent his college life and worked as an insurance agent for four years. Now is the founder and team leader of the website.

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