Polystyrene foam has taken another body blow from McDonald's Corp., which famously abandoned the PS clamshell burger package way back in 1990.
Today's target: the PS foam hot-drink cup.
Last week McDonald's announced that it will eliminate the use of PS hot-beverage cups in the U.S., following a successful large-scale test of double-wall paper cups.
The news will help expand the growing number of PS food-service packaging bans that have been popping up around the country, with a heavy concentration on the West Coast. After all, if McDonald's can find a workable paper coffee cup, other quick-serve restaurants will have a tough time arguing that they need to stick with PS foam.
One reason they don't matter is because much of the public still has a negative perception of PS foam that's based on outdated or exaggerated claims related to chemical safety.
Another reason: Much of the movement to ban PS foam these days focuses on marine debris, which is a major issue in parts of the United States. To activists who are concerned about plastic in the oceans, it doesn't matter if PS has a superior sustainability record to paper. That doesn't keep it out of the ocean and off the beaches.
PS cups have stuck around for a long time in the hot-drink market because of their superior performance. They keep drinks warm and protect consumers from scalding-hot liquids. But other major fast-food and coffee chains successfully switched over to paper cups without a significant backlash from consumers.
There's an entire generation of young adults who don't remember that McDonald's burgers used to be packaged in PS foam clamshells. A couple of decades from now, we'll be able to say the same thing about PS foam coffee cups.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of "The Plastics Blog."