Bowing to pressure from environmentalists, McDonald's Corp. announced Thursday it will phase out plastic foam packages for its Big Macs and other food.
The announcement will have little effect on Utah-based Huntsman Chemical Corp., which last year tallied $1.2 billion in consolidated revenue.Ronald A. Rasband, Huntsman president, said, "Today, less than one quarter of 1 percent of Huntsman's sales dollars result from our customer's manufacture of foam plastics for McDonald's. Huntsman ceased manufacturing Big Mac containers over 10 years ago."
He continued, "Our polystyrene, polypropylene and other petrochemicals are directed to the television and video cassette-recorder business, toys, insulation, furniture and household furnishings and the automobile and aerospace industries."
Huntsman is credited with pioneering the plastic foam containers for the fast-food business, but in recent years the company has become a diversified company with 1,800 people.
McDonald's officials announced Thursday they will phase out plastic foam packages for its Big Mac and other food items within 60 days.
"Although some scientific studies indicate that foam packaging is environmentally sound, our customers just don't feel good about it," said McDonald's USA president Edward H. Rensi. "So we're changing."
The decision was hailed by an environmental group, which predicted McDonald's will be a trendsetter in the industry.
Fred Krupp, executive director of the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund, was with Rensi when he made the announcement at McDonald's Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters.
Rasband said, "We are deeply saddened that environmental groups have forced McDonald's to shift from a recyclable container to paper-based products. Paper products today occupy more than 50 percent of our landfills as opposed to less than 1 percent for disposable fast-food plastic products such as the Big Mac container. Paper is produced from trees which reduce the oxygen in the environment."
He said operations at Huntsman Chemical, the largest privately held chemical company in the United States and abroad will continue unabated.
"Moreover, we will continue our leadership efforts in plastics recycling and other environmentally wholesome projects for which our company allocates millions of dollars every year," Rasband said.
Krupp's non-profit group has worked with McDonald's since August to devise the phase-out plan.
"I think it's a big day for the American public. We've been studying this issue of environmental problems and McDonald's is not interested in doing anything but the right thing," Rensi said.
He said the sandwich containers account for nearly 75 percent of the fast-foot chain's foam use, and the move would mean a significant reduction in the volume of packaging used by McDonald's.
Some communities have banned polystyrene containers outright, putting additional pressure on McDonald's 8,000 restaurants to eliminate using plastic foam.
Jim Cantalupo, president of McDonald's International, said the company would continue testing for the best materials to replace plastic foam and will phase them into the operation when they become available.