McDonald’s Corp. confirmed that it is transitioning from polystyrene beverage cups to a fiber-based paper cup for its McCafé hot drinks in a multiyear rollout at its more than 14,000 restaurants in the United States.

According to an email from spokeswoman Ofelia Casillas, the exact design of the cup has not been determined, but McDonald’s has been testing paper cups in more than 2,000 units on the West Coast for a year and a half.

Oakland, Calif.-based advocacy group As You Sow, which presented a shareholder resolution at McDonald’s Corp.’s 2011 shareholder meeting that called for phasing out polystyrene beverage cups, praised the move.

“We congratulate McDonald’s on its decision to stop using foam beverage cups, which will reduce the threat of plastic pollution to the world’s oceans and provide a more recyclable, valuable alternative in paper fiber,” Conrad MacKerron, As You Sow’s senior vice president, said in a statement.

McDonald’s decision did not stem from As You Sow’s request to ban plastic-foam beverage cups two years ago, Casillas noted.

“The reasons for this change include customers’ changing preferences and increased recyclability,” she wrote.

Several major cities have banned the use of polystyrene packaging in restaurants, including San Francisco; Seattle; and Portland, Ore. Outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban earlier this year in his State of the City address.

Lawmakers in California last considered a statewide ban in 2011, though the legislation did not come before a vote of the full California Assembly. More than 60 California cities have a curbside recycling program for plastic-foam restaurant containers.

However, nationwide, plastic foam is not widely recycled. As You Sow pushes McDonald’s and other restaurants to discontinue using polystyrene because the plastic foam often ends up in the ocean, where it breaks apart into small, indigestible pellets that choke and kill birds and marine animals.

The advocacy group added that Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Donuts is working with As You Sow as the restaurant chain phases out its polystyrene beverage cups.

McDonald’s had updated its packaging for its domestic restaurants this past January, introducing takeout bags and fountain drink cups with QR codes that activated smartphone Web browsers to pull up caloric and other nutritional information for specific menu items.

The chain’s packaging also aligned with its environmental efforts later that same month, when McDonald’s introduced packaging for its Filet-O-Fish sandwich carrying the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue “eco-label.” The partnership with the advocacy group recognized McDonald’s move to source fish certified as sustainable for 100 percent of its fish products.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s operates or franchises more than 34,000 restaurants worldwide.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN