McDonald’s Considers Replacing Foam Cups With Paper

McDonalds, coffee, paper cups, foam cups, styrene, polystyrene, recycling, McCafe, fast food,
McDonald's will test paper cups in 2000 locations

Yesterday McDonald’s announced it would test paper coffee cups instead of the current foam cups in 2000 of its U.S. locations. Part of McDonald’s resurgence in recent years was because of their new McCafe drinks and improved roasted coffee. But in addition to giving coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts a run for their money, all those polystyrene foam cups create massive amounts of waste.

In addition to the waste problem, international health organizations like the International Agency for Research on Cancer have suggested that styrene in any form could have links to cancer. And as more consumers question not only the ingredients that make up their food, but the packaging in which they are delivered, even large companies like McDonald’s are taking a hard look at how they wrap and contain their products.

Calls for improved packaging are a familiar refrain for McDonald’s. In the 1980s, growing outcry about those bright polystyrene clamshell burger containers pushed McDonald’s into using paper instead. McDonald’s touts its reduce, reuse and recycle program, and now this is the opportunity for the burger giant to put its money where its mouth is. A change in business practices is important: litter from fast food companies is not only challenging municipalities with their waste diversion plans, but pollutes water supplies across the country, too.

So now like Starbucks, McDonald’s is stepping up on its recycling efforts. Paper is recycled easily compared to cups made out of styrene. If paper cups end up in landfill, they still have a chance at decomposing much quicker than those pesky foam cups.

Most of the pilot test sites will be on the West Coast. Of course there is one option McDonald’s could explore as a pilot: offering coffee for customers enjoying its product it its much improved, WiFi-enabled store locations: have it in a ceramic cup so less trash ends up having to recycled, which still consumes energy, or hauled to a landfill. Your local barista did not lie: it really does taste better in a ceramic cup. And less waste, or no waste from the onset, means a more sustainable option, too.

Next on McDonald’s agenda? How about eliminating those chlorine bleached white napkins? McDonald’s has admitted the change to unbleached bags and napkins in Canada has saved money.

Leon Kaye is a journalist, sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Leon Kaye.

Leon Kaye has written for Triple Pundit since 2010 . He is the founder and editor of Based in Fresno, California, he is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. His work is has also appeared on The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).