The Last Foam Cup — McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts


In 1948, McDonald’s sparked a disposable revolution when they quit using reusable plates and utensils. Non-degradable polystyrene foam — often called styrofoam — became king, with foam cups and cheeseburger boxes filling landfills and oceans day after day. In 1990, McDonald’s did away with foam “clam shell” boxes, but it still goes through about a billion foam cups a year.

Polystyrene foam is one of the greatest of ocean plastics scourges. It breaks down into tiny pieces that marine animals mistake for food, and it lasts — literally — forever. An astounding amount of ocean plastic debris is foam or plastic packaging.

Shareholders get it on foam. It takes a lot of power to alter the path of a corporate behemoth like McDonald’s, but with shareholder power complementing grassroots activism and legislation, it can be done. With a 30% shareholder vote on our shareholder resolution, McDonald’s investors told the company they wanted it to quit its polystyrene habit. And McDonald’s listened. The company will get rid of foam packaging entirely — globally by the end of 2018.

McDonald's action is a resounding victory for oceans, ecosystems, landfills, and marine life. And Dunkin’ Donuts followed McDonalds’s lead. Dunkin’ uses around a billion foam cups a year, too — they've announced they'll quit foam by 2020.

That's 2 billion foam cups every year between McDonald's and Dunkin' that won't ever see a customer — or the ocean, or the inside of a sea turtle’s stomach.

That’s the power of shareholder action.  That’s shareholders stopping the flow of plastics at the source: giant global corporations.