In 2012, the company agreed to test replacement of its foam cups with a double-walled paper hot cup at approximately 2,000 restaurants, primarily on the West Coast. The paper cup will now become the standard hot beverage cup at all US outlets.
As You Sow, which promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy and innovative legal strategies, says polystyrene is not widely recycled and has become pervasive in the marine environment, carried through storm drains to the ocean. It breaks down into small indigestible pellets that birds and marine mammals mistake for food, resulting in their death.
There are also occupational risks associated with styrene, which is used to make polystyrene. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that styrene is a possible human carcinogen and in 2011, it was listed as a possible carcinogen by the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program.
Scores of cities in California, including San Jose, have banned or restricted the use of polystyrene food packaging. In New York City, mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on foam. More than 1,000 Big Apple restaurants have written letters urging the city council to oppose the proposed ban on polystyrene foam food service products, according to Restaurant Action Alliance NYC.
McDonald’s began to phase out its iconic clam shell foam hamburger box in 1990 amid controversy about the environmental impacts of polystyrene, but continued to use foam beverage cups. The fast-food chain is already a major purchaser of recycled fiber used in its food containers, bags and napkins.
As You Sow says it’s also speaking with Dunkin’ Donuts, which uses foam hot beverage cups. The company recently announced plans to phase out foam cups in two to three years but has not disclosed what materials it will use instead.
As You Sow has also pursued similar measures with General Mills. At the company meeting in Minneapolis this week, shareholders will vote on a resolution asking General Mills to assess post-consumer waste strategies, including a policy that shifts responsibility for packaging waste from taxpayers and governments to producers, known as extended producer responsibility (EPR).