McDonald’s packaging will phase out styrofoam by 2020.

McDonald’s packaging is about to undergo a transformation as the company recently made the decision to phase out its use of styrofoam packaging by 2020.

“We do appreciate what McDonald’s has done,” said Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President of As You Sow, in response. “It’s taken a long time, but better late than never.”

This compliment to McDonald’s happened shortly after As You Sow filed an anti-polystyrene proposal—which earned 32 percent of shareholder votes in May 2017. McDonald’s had already been working toward meeting its own sustainability goals, however, and packaging redesign is part of the golden arch DNA.

A Brief History of McDonald’s Packaging

As one of the oldest fast-food companies in the U.S., McDonald’s packaging has been through drastic transformation throughout the years. From its paper bags of the 1950’s, cardboard containers in the 1970’s, and the ultimate introduction of foam packaging in 1983, the company has successfully recreated its packaging at the turn of almost every decade since its creation, shared Leanna Garfield of Business Insider.

The shift toward fiber-based packaging is also not the first time the company will be redesigning its packaging for the sake of sustainability. In 1990, McDonald’s dropped its foam clamshell packaging for a more environmentally friendly option—paper wrapping and containers.

Yet another change of McDonald’s packaging should come with more ease considering its their extensive history on the matter.

“While about two percent of our packaging, by weight, is currently foam, we believe this small step is an important one on our journey,” claimed McDonald’s website. “These actions represent successes that will continue to raise the bar for our system and our industry.”

McDonald’s Works Toward Sustainability

As McDonald’s continues its path toward sustainability, the company’s leadership is setting multiple goals. Not only will Mcdonald’s packaging be 100 percent fiber-based and from recycled or certified sources by 2020, but the company has an additional goal of using packaging that is 100 percent renewable, recycled, or from certified sources by 2025.

“McDonald’s is committed to sustainability as a core business practice today and as our company grows. And, the environmental impact of our packaging is a top priority,” the company website stated.

As of last year, 50 percent of McDonald’s packaging was already coming from renewable and recycled sources. Moreover, the company has already made significant progress in adopting fiber packaging as an alternative as 64 percent of McDonald’s packaging was already fiber-based in 2016.

The Environmental Impact of Styrofoam

Styrofoam is made from polystyrene—a petroleum-based plastic that is non-biodegradable. While it may be recyclable, many recycling companies no longer accept polystyrene products. This is detrimental to the environment, as Americans dispose of 25 billion styrofoam takeout containers and cups annually.

Additionally, the National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research found that the creation of styrofoam releases 57 chemical byproducts..

It goes without saying that the heavy use of styrofoam is anything but beneficial to the environment. Therefore, it makes sense that McDonald’s packaging is shifting to being fiber-based, especially considering the company’s 2015 announcement of its  global Commitment on Forests.

The Health Risk of Styrofoam

Styrene is a foundational ingredient in the making of polystyrene—styrofoam—and was established as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

In working closely with styrene, one is exposed to: skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract irritants as well as gastrointestinal effects. That doesn’t include the side effects of chronic exposure, which can lead to depression, headaches, weakness, fatigue, and even minor effects on kidney function, writes Kim Robson of Green-Mom.

Fiber-Based Packaging

As environmental impact has become important for many consumers, the need to provide sustainable packaging has become top priority. This has also changed manufacturer product portfolios to include sustainable products, which gave to the rise of sustainable packaging.

fiber-based packaging is one of the most prominent methods of sustainable packaging. Widely used across the industry—in electronics, food and beverages, and consumer goods—fiber-based packaging is currently the most apt method of McDonald’s packaging as it utilizes reusable, renewable, or biodegradable materials. Furthermore, this indicates that fiber-based packaging would be considerably less of a health risk for consumers, unlike styrofoam.