McDonald's Corporation: Request for Report on Risks of Foam Cups

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WHEREAS: McDonald’s Corp. has stated its aspiration to “source all of our food and packaging sustainably,” yet continues to use polystyrene-based foam beverage cups in some overseas markets years after phasing them out in the United States.  

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, of which McDonald’s is a member, defines sustainable packaging as “beneficial, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that styrene, used in the production of polystyrene, is a possible human carcinogen. Epidemiologic studies suggest an association between occupational styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma.  

Polystyrene foam used for coffee cups, takeout containers and packing materials, is rarely recycled. It is often swept into waterways and is one of the top items found in ocean beach cleanups. Foam packaging materials break down into small indigestible pellets which animals mistake for food. Ingestion can result in death as demonstrated in birds, turtles, and whales.  

Foam has also been shown to transfer hazardous chemicals to wildlife. Plastics absorb toxics like PCBs, pesticides, and metals from water, transferring them to the marine food web and potentially to human diets, increasing risk of adverse effects to wildlife and humans. Foam may pose a higher risk to marine animals than other plastics due to its hazardous constituent chemicals and research showing it can accumulate high concentrations of water borne toxins in a short time frame. Polystyrene has caused decreased reproduction in laboratory populations of oysters and fish.  

Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, France, Guyana, Haiti, Rwanda, Taiwan and states in India and Malaysia have enacted bans on foam packaging. More than 100 U.S. cities or counties have banned or restricted foam packaging. The problem can be exacerbated in developing countries with less sophisticated solid waste management systems. Recent scientific research estimates that one half of ocean plastic deposition comes from several rapidly developing Asian countries including China and the Philippines where McDonald’s still uses foam cups in some areas. 

Fresh waters are also threatened by plastics like polystyrene. A recent study of 29 rivers flowing into the Great Lakes found that every sample carried microplastics, often in concentrations far larger than detected in the lakes themselves.  

BE IT RESOLVED THAT: Shareowners of McDonald’s request that the board of directors issue a report at reasonable cost, omitting confidential information, assessing the environmental impacts of continued use of polystyrene foam beverage cups, including quantifying the amount that could reach the environment, and assessing the potential for increased risk of adverse health effects to marine animals and humans.  


Proponents believe the report should include an assessment of the reputational, financial and operational risks associated with continuing to use foam cups and a timeline to phase out their use. We believe the requested report is in the best interest of McDonald’s and its shareholders. Leadership in this area will protect our brand and enhance the company’s reputation. 

Resolution Details

Company: McDonalds Corporation

Lead Filer: 
As You Sow

Year: 2018

Filing Date: 
December 2016

Initiative(s): Consumer Packaging

Status: 32.3%

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