As You Sow calls out McDonald’s on use of polystyrene

McDonald's still uses polystyrene for packaging applications in overseas markets, where plastic pollution migration into waterways is highest

Shareholder advocacy group As You Sow has re-filed for 2018 a resolution with McDonald’s Corp., urging the company to assess the environmental impact of its use of polystyrene 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.

wImage.phpPolystyrene 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. McDonald’s phased out its use for hot beverage cups in the U.S. in 2013, but still uses it in overseas markets where plastic pollution migration into waterways is highest.

Rarely recycled, polystyrene is found on ocean beach cleanups frequently. The material breaks down into indigestible pellets, which marine wildlife often mistake for food, resulting in the deaths of fish, birds, turtles, and whales. Its hazardous constituent chemicals have been show 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 U.S. cities or counties have banned or restricted foam packaging. Leaders of 15 major companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have all recommended phasing out polystyrene for packaging applications.

“McDonald’s cannot afford to fall behind other companies in phasing out polystyrene,” said Conrad MacKerron, Vice President at As You Sow, who specializes in waste and recycling issues. “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.”

Founded in 1992, As You Sow promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. As investor representatives, As You Sow communicates directly with corporate executives to collaboratively develop and implement business models that reduce risk, benefit brand reputation, and protect long term shareholder value while simultaneously bringing about positive change for the environment and human rights.


Bioplastics MAGAZINE, 2017-12-20.


McDonald's Corp.