YUM! Brands has confirmed it is to phase out the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging globally by 2022, following engagement with As You Sow.

Brands under the YUM! Brands portfolio include KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. Currently, EPS foam is used mostly for side dish take-out containers in about 40 of YUM!’s global markets including 4,000 U.S. locations and 2,700 non-U.S. locations.

As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and legal strategies.

Rarely recycled, EPS foam (also called Styrofoam), used in beverage cups and takeout containers, is a frequent component of beach litter, breaking down into indigestible pellets, which animals mistake for food, sometimes resulting in impairment and death.

A shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow urging the company to phase out EPS foam among other actions to improve packaging sustainability was supported by 33% of shares voted, with a share value of $7bn in 2019. As You Sow refiled its shareholder proposal for 2020, but has withdrawn the proposal in recognition of the company’s commitment.

“We congratulate YUM! management for this leadership action in removing EPS foam from its global packaging stream,” said Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President at As You Sow, who specializes in waste and recycling issues. “This action could significantly reduce the amount of single use packaging that ends up as littered waste, especially in developing economies where YUM! does substantial business.”

In 2018, McDonald’s Corp. agreed to phase out foam containers at the end of 2018 after a shareholder vote and engagement with As You Sow, eliminating the use of one billion cups annually. A month later, Dunkin’ Brands followed suit, setting a 2020 phase-out date for foam cups following McDonald’s commitment, which will eliminate use of another billion cups annually.

Polystyrene has been widely used for single-use containers across the world for decades, but in recent years its negative environmental and health profile has led major companies to drop it. In 2017, a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastics Economy Project endorsed by major brands including Coca-Cola Co., Danone, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, recommended phase out of expanded polystyrene, calling it a substance of concern and stating that its replacement would enhance the economics of recycling.

Its hazardous constituent chemicals have been shown to accumulate water borne toxins in a short time frame, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that styrene, used in the production of polystyrene, is a possible human carcinogen.

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