McDonald's Corp. aims to eliminate the use of millions of polystyrene hot beverage cups in the United States following a successful large scale test of paper cups.
With more than 14,000 restaurants around the country, the decision is huge.
The nation's largest restaurant chain has been testing double-walled paper cups for hot beverages at a couple of thousand restaurants since early 2012, according to As You Sow, a non-profit group that revealed McDonald's decision on Sept. 25.
As You Sow, for years now, has been pushing McDonald's to do away with the PS cups. That included a shareholder resolution at the company's 2011 annual meeting requesting the firm examine its beverage containers with an eye towards the environment.
That resolution did not pass, but did gain 29.3 percent support, the group said. And by the following year, the restaurant chain started testing the double-walled paper cups at sites primarily along the West Coast, As You Sow indicated.
Seeing what it believed was progress, As You Sow did not put the matter before shareholders again in 2012.
Ofelia Casillas is media relations manager for McDonald's at the company's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. That's the same place where folks from around the country attend Hamburger University as part of their management training.
"Moving to a paper-based cup across 14,000 restaurants translates to a significant impact," Casillas said in an email interview.
"The reasons for this change include customers' changing preferences and increased recyclability," Casillas said. "The decision comes after testing paper cup designs in 2,000+ stores on the West Coast for the last year-and-a-half."
Now that approach is going nationwide.
"McDonald's has made a great start by phasing out foam," said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president for As You Sow, in a statement. "We hope they will also incorporate recycled fiber in the cups and develop on-site systems to collect and recycle food service packaging."
The move away from PS for hot beverage cups comes amid a backdrop of municipal regulation of the material in some parts of the country.
Many California cities have banned or restricted its use in food packaging, As You Sow indicated, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing his own ban.
McDonald's still serves large numbers of cold drinks each day in other plastic cups.
"At this point we have only identified fiber as an alternative material for the hot coffee cup. We're continuing to seek and test alternatives for our large cold cups," Casillas said in the email interview.
The decision to move away from plastic coffee cups also looks to have an impact beyond the United States, the media relations manager said, as all major McDonald's markets will use a paper coffee cup.
The decision to move away from PS coffee cups comes more than a generation after McDonald's famously stopped using the material in its clamshell burger containers in 1990.