McDonald’s: Case B1 • 1
NATIONAL POLLUTION PREVENTION CENTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
Pollution Prevention in
Case B1: The Clamshell
Susan Svoboda, Manager of the Corporate Environmental Management
Program, University of Michigan, prepared this case under the guidance of
Stuart Hart, Director of the Corporate Environmental Management Program
and Assistant Professor of Corporate Strategy and Organizational Behavior at
the Michigan Business School, as the basis for class discussion rather than to
illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.
We would like to thank the National Pollution Prevention Center for supporting
the development of this case.
As a result, McDonald’s switched to polystyrene for
their cups and sandwich containers, and launched an
environmental education program to communicate to
the public their rationale for the switch from paperboard
In 1989, McDonald’s piloted a recycling pro-
gram in 450 of their New England restaurants by asking
in-store customers to sort their trash into designated
The polystyrene was then shipped to one to
eight plastic recycling plants formed in a joint venture
of eight plastics companies.
The program gained
enough success that soon it was expanded to California
and Oregon at the request of state officials, and involved
a total of 1,000 stores.
McDonald’s began planning a
national expansion of the program.
Director Fred Krupp told Ed Rensi, Chief Operating
Officer and President of McDonald’s USA, that he
would publicly refuse to endorse the recycling program,
because he did not regard it as the best environmental
Packaging in the Waste Stream
Packaging is essential to a product’s performance.
protects the product throughout production, distribution
and storage, provides consumers with product and usage
information, and differentiates the product.
facturers and distributors also expect packaging to extend
the product’s shelf life and to preserve the appearance,
freshness, flavor, and moisture content of food.
packaging reduces food spoilage-rates and diverts more
than its own weight from disposal.
The Joint Task Force of McDonald’s Corporation and
the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was in its third
month of collaboration when a decision needed to be
made about the expansion of McDonald’s polystyrene
The task force, formed through a
mutual agreement between the parties, had been
charged with finding ways to reduce McDonald’s solid
waste through source reduction, reuse, recycling, and
However, one aspect of McDonald’s
operations seemed to attract the public’s attention —
the polystyrene “clamshell” sandwich containers.