McDonald's Corp. is ditching expanded polystyrene for good around the globe.
Just weeks after another call for the company to reconsider its use of EPS in cold beverage cups and trays, the Oakbrook, Ill.-based company now indicates foam products will be eliminated by the end of 2018.
News of the latest move comes after McDonald's transitioned from foam to paper coffee and hot beverage cups a few years ago.
As You Sow, a shareholders advocacy group interested in environmental issues, recently refiled a resolution asking the company to assess the impact of EPS. This same proposal received nearly one-third support from shareholders last year.
But McDonald's is tackling the issue before the matter can be put to shareholders at an upcoming annual meeting.
McDonald's EPS decision comes with a backdrop of a larger battle regarding the use of the material as municipalities debate the issue.
Industry forces call EPS recyclable and say the material is, indeed, recycled. But opponents say the material is just too difficult to handle or not recyclable on a large scale as a practical matter.
EPS, unlike its rigid PS cousin, is made up of about 98 percent air. It's light weight and bulk present recycling challenges compared to some other plastics.
But Dart Container Corp., for example, has been a strong advocate for EPS packaging and its recyclability. The company has offered to create a system to handle New York City's EPS, for example, in the face of Mayor Bill de Blasio push to outlaw the material's use in takeout food packaging.
Dart also has created a network of EPS recycling facilities in different parts of the country.
McDonald's, on the company's website, indicates "the environmental impact of our packaging is a top priority."
"We also plan to eliminate foam packaging from our global system by the end of 2018. While about 2 percent of our packaging, by weight, is currently foam, we believe this small step is an important one on our journey. These actions represent successes that will continue to raise the bar for our system and our industry," the company said.
Conrad MacKerron has been helping lead the fight against EPS use at McDonald's for As You Sow.
"This sends an important message to other quick service food companies who may still be using foam. We also hope McDonald's will next turn its attention to other single use items like plastic straws and cup lids that pose hazards to marine animals and add to the tsunami of plastic waste afflicting world oceans," he said in a statement.
While the merits of EPS use have been debated for years, it has only been recently that the use of plastic straws is coming into wider question by some.
Actiam, which describes itself as a "responsible fund and asset manager," and JLens, a network of Jewish faith-based investors, joined with As You Sow to file the earlier shareholders proposal. As You Sow indicated it will now withdraw the proposal.