McToxicd“Mister, stop being so mean and give me my sandwich wrapped in paper,” said a young man in 1990. He was part of CHEJ’s McToxic’s campaign primarily run by young school children.

McDonald’s refused to eliminate their use of Styrofoam in their packaging of sandwiches. Young people across the country took it upon themselves to organize their friends and protest at their local McDonalds restaurants. They asked for food wrapped in paper but because of the franchise license the restaurant couldn’t change the packaging.

The win was big. McDonald agreed on November 1, 1990 to stop using Styrofoam in all of their sandwich packing.

Sadly, McDonalds did not credit the children who lead this campaign and were very active. Instead McDonald’s gave the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) all the credit including a center photo in People’s Magazine. Young people were angry that EDF did not share the credit and as one young person said, “We did all the work, but no one takes us seriously because were kids . . . that’s wrong.”  

CHEJ had an exciting time working with all the kids that made signs and challenged a multinational corporation. Not only did they get Styrofoam out of the sandwich wraps they also removed foam from the school cafeterias, houses of faith and community centers across the nation. They know that young voices matter and were proud of their win.

Today, As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group convinced McDonald’s Corp. to end use of harmful polystyrene foam packaging globally by the end of this year. A big win for the health of world oceans.

Rarely recycled, expanded polystyrene foam used in beverage cups and takeout containers is a frequent component of beach litter, breaking down into indigestible pellets, which marine animals mistake for food, resulting in deaths of marine animals.

A shareholder proposal filed by urging the company to phase out of polystyrene was supported by 32% of shares voted (share value $26 billion) in May 2017.  McDonald’s phased out foam cups for hot beverages in the United States after engagement with As You Sow in 2012, but continued to use them in foreign markets like Hong Kong and the Philippines identified as having high levels of plastics deposition into waterways. It also continued to use foam for cold beverages and food trays in some U.S. markets.

McDonald’s has posted a statement on its corporate website that it plans to eliminate foam packaging from its global system by the end of 2018.

Nine countries and more than 100 U.S. cities or counties have banned or restricted foam packaging. 15 major brands including Coca-Cola Co, Danone, Dow Chemical, L’Oreal, Marks & Spencer, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever recommended replacement of polystyrene foam as a packaging material in a report released in 2017 by the New Plastics Economy Project of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Polystyrene has been widely used for single-use containers across the world for decades, but in recent years its negative environmental and health profile have led major companies to drop it. Its hazardous constituent chemicals have been shown to accumulate water borne toxins in a short time frame, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that styrene, used in the production of polystyrene, is a possible human carcinogen.