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McDonalds Sweet Tea Styrofoam Packaging

While most companies and a number of municipalities are phasing out the use of #6 polystyrene (commonly referred to and known as styrofoam) in fast food packaging one of the largest fast food companies in the US, McDonalds, is using it for its popular Sweet Tea drink.

McDonalds is heavily promoting its Sweet Tea, offering a large sized cup for just $1

The large #6 styrofoam cup was developed specifically for McDonalds by Dart.

While most disposable fast food cups including those made of paper are not easily recyclable, McDonalds choice of a styrofoam cup for a new product promotion is significant.  Does the company consider styrofoam a better option than paper?

The topic has come up on McDonalds Corporate Social Responsibility blog Open for Discussion.

Responding to a comment from a reader who was concerned about the company’s use of styrofoam for its Sweet Tea drinks a McDonalds representative said the company looks at “life cycle impacts as opposed to only ‘end-of-life’ impacts.”

A McDonalds customer posted the following question on McDonalds CSR blog, “I was wondering why the new sweet tea is being served in styrofoam cups. I know you have responded to other styrofoam questions but I’m wondering why a new drink product needs to be served in styrofoam when the paper cups work for every other drink. While I know the paper cups most likely don’t get recycled, at least they will degrade in the environment unlike styrofoam. Why is this new tea using something that it proven to be so bad for the environment when there are much better choices already being used?”

McDonalds posted the following response to the readers questions which shed some light on their decision to use styrofoam.  “It’s true that in the U.S., food service cups of any material are not recycled significantly. We look to optimize life cycle impacts as opposed to only “end-of-life” impacts. This means that we’ll evaluate a package for impacts across many criteria (e.g., weight, resource use, recyclability) as opposed to only selecting the package based on its ability to be recycled. Also, environment is one of several criteria used for decision making; key amongst this is meeting our customer’s expectations. Others include functionality, cost and supply availability.”

McDonalds has worked globally on its environmental image, so their choice of styrofoam drink packaging for a new product warrants our attention.  What is McDonalds saying by making the choice to use this material?

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