witness statement

name: Brian Lipsett
section: Environment
for: The Defence
experience: Research Analyst


In the warm glow imediately after the Nov. 1 announcement, the major media essentially "blacked out" any significant mention of the role of the hundreds of local grassroots, student and church groups in winning this fight, preferring instead to credit the major national environmental groups. EDF head Fred Krupp was all too willing to take the credit. "The task force helped to persuade McDonalds that they could do business without the clamshell....McDonalds has seen the future, and it's green." But you know who really made this victory happen and, we're confident, so will history.


Research analyst- Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, 1967 to 1992 (U.S.)

Full cv:
(not available for this witness)

full statement:

Environmental Background Information Center

Memo: To Whom it May Concern

The attached Documents, which, include the Resume of Brian Lipsett, (1 page), Areas of Expertise Pertaining to McDonalds (3 pages), Genesis and Outcome of the McToxics Campaign (1 page), Professional Research Publications and Articles I have written (2 pages), are all the work of my hand and were transmitted to Dave Morris in London via fax on Monday, July 26, 1993.


From 1967 to 1992, I worked for the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste in the capacity of research analyst. My job included direct personal and phone contact with grassroots leaders all over the U.S., Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. My focus has been technical, scientific, and corporate background research of companies involved in the environmental field and/or whose activities affected or could affect a commtility's environment. The purpose of this research is to provide local community groups with tactical organizing information, that they could use to advance their own causes in the pursuit of environmental justice. I worked under the supervision of Stephen Lester, CCHW's Science Director. That meant that I not only was I looking at a company's background, I also was examining the types of technology, the modes of production and the lifespan of products produced or employed by a given company.

From October 1987 to November 1990, CCHW coordinated a nationwide grassroots campaign against McDonalds, aimed at getting McDonalds to stop using styrofoam food packaging (i.e. the McToxics Campaign). During the campaign, I researched the McDonalds company and its use of styrofoam as well as the side effects of styrofoam production and use, the disposal of styrofoam, and the disposal and dispersal of the chemical precursors and waste byproducts used in the manufacture of styrofoam.

CCHW compiled and circulated this information around the nation to grassroots organizations, national environmental organizations, news agencies, and church organizations in the form of a Mcfact Pack. Among our findings were:

Issues surrounding polystgrene foam production:

In 1987, the plastic industry journal, Modern Plastic' s described McDonalds as the largest single user of polystyrene, the chemical used to produce foam food packaging.

Minimizatition of Hazardous Waste, a United States Environmental Protection Agency report released in 1986 ranked the polystyrene production process generates the 5th largest amount of toxic waste of any single chemical production process.

EPA identified ethylene and benzene, the chemical precursors to polystyrene as the 4th and 6th highest waste production processes respectively.

Until 1987, polystyrene foam manufacturers in the U.S. used a variety of chloro-fluorocarbons (CFC's), chemicals which have been shown to damage the ozone layer, to puff up the polystyrene when it is molded. In 1987, major foam producers and foam package users announced they would change their processes to use different, non CFC gasses to produce foam food packages.

However, research indicates that one of the chemical alternatives to CFC, called Pentane, is explosive and difficult to contain in the manufacturing process, causing dangerous working conditions and smog pollution when released into the environment.

The other alternative gas, Hydro Chloro-fluorocarbon (HCFC), was identified as a CFC gas by EPA until manufacturers convinced EPA to remove it-from the list of ozone depleting CFC gasses in 1987. Further research indicated that the HCFC gas is more damaging to the ozone layer than industry scientists had claimed.

Issues-surrounding polystyrene foam food packaging use

EPA National Human Adipose Tissue Survey for 1986 identified styrene residues in 100% of all samples of human fat tissue taken in 1982 in the U.S.. Styrene is a precursor to polystyrene plastic and is a contaminant in all polystyrene foam packages. Styrene is fat soluble and potentially can be picked up in hamburger fat in a foam food package and transferred to the food.

Studies published by the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education determined that styrofoam drinking leach stryofoam into the liquids they contain. The cups apparently lose weight during the time they are at use. The theory being that different materials cause some of the foam to dissolve into the liquid in the vessel. The studies showed that tea with lemon produced the most marked change in the weight of the foam cup.

Issues surrounding polystyrene foam food packaging disposal

The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research identified 57 chemical byproducts released during the combustion of polystyrene foam during laboratory tests. These findings identified a number of dangerous cancer causing chemicals that are released when foam products are burned.

Lanfill disposal of foam products resuIts in the overfiIIing of landfiIIs with bulky, non-degrading plastics. In the environment, these foam substances do not decay and can be found on beaches and littering roadsides when they aren't disposed of in landfills. CCHW research determined that McDonalds contributed 1.3 billion cubic feet of foam food packaging waste to the nation's waste stream annually.

During my tenure at CCHW, I compiled and distributed this research both through, journal articles and information packets.

McDonalds' Response to the McToxics Campaign

Over the course of the three year duration of the Mctoxics campaign, the company exhibited a fairly consistent pattern of responses to pressure from grassroots groups. On a local level, the company distributed literature from the campaign as well as advice to local managers on how to handle a local picket by a community group. On a national level, McDonald's fought back with a high profile public relations campaign which can be characterized in three stages. Stage One was denial, Stage Two was to claim the implausible, and Stage Three was capitulation.

In stage one, McDonald's hired public relations flacks to handle angry phone calls and to make statements to curious reporters. In this senario, McDonald's public relations flacks posed as McDonald's employee /spokespersons and made ridiculous claims, such: "Foam packaging is good for landfill, it aerates the soil." or "McDonalds uses recycled paper in its packaging." The latter statement proved to be true only in the case of the boxes McDonalds uses to ship its products. The former response does not dignify a retort.

During one demonstration in Washington DC, a person claiming to be a McDonald's employee handled the press. In response to questions raised by activists, the person admitted that she worked for a public relations firm hired by Mcdonalds.

Stage Two: During a meeting with representatives from the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, McDonalds vice President, Shelby Yatrow announced that McDonalds would recycle foam-packages. Yatrow also agreed to meet with grassroots activists to discuss the foam issue.

All told, McDonalds' behavior was reprehensible and characterized by duplicity. Even in capitulation, the company refused to credit local commiunity groups for their decision to abandon foam packages.

The McToxics Campaign

How do you link together grassroots community groups across the United States dealing with solid and hazardous waste issues into a nationwide campaign to force waste reduction? In a series of roundtable titled the Solid Waste Action Project, leaders of grassroots community groups hashed out a working plan. First, a common set of goals was derived.

This platfrom developed out of CCHW's roundtables and the 1986 Grassroots Convention. It was first outlined in CCHW's Solid Waste Action Project Guidebook, August 1987 (a tactical manual on fighting solid waste disposal facilities derived from these discussions). Out of those discussions, also came the "McToxics Campaign", designed to focus on a major producer of solid waste. The waste of particular concern was plastic packaging. But who would be the target? The key was to identify a conspicuous target that was vulnerable to public pressure. CCHW's Karen Stults, in Business and Society Review, explained the choice.

In 1986, McDonalds Corporation gave money awards to 51 organizations working to improve the health education and rehabilitation of youth. McDonalds opened their one hundreth Ronald McDonald House to provide inexpensive, near-site housing to parents of hospitalized children. McDonalds likes to promote the banner "Good Corporate Citizen."

In 1987, McDonalds was identified by Modern Plastics as the foam packaging king, using 70 million pounds of the chemical styrene to keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold. That year foam food packagers were also under assault from several major environmental groups for their use of ozone killing CFC's (clorofluorocarbons) in the manufacture of foam. On August 1, 1987, Vermonters Organized for Cleanup kicked off CCHW's "McTozics Campaign" by launching a series of actions to ban the use of foam food packaging in Vermont. The Vermont actions were to be followed by in October by a nationwide "Day of Action" against McDonalds restaurants. McDonalds moved to duck the issue, joining foam makers in a news conference on August 5, to announce a "voluntary" end to the uses of CFCs in styrofoam food packaging.

The move was hailed as a victory by the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Friends of the Earth. Two years later, the Washinton Post blasted the three environmental groups for cutting a deal with the foam makers to hush up the fact that the replacement foaming gas was just a renamed CFC. The major manufacturers of foam had petitioned the EPA to change the name of CFC-22 to HCFC-22. EPA allowed the change, and industry announced that from now on their foam would be "CFC free" and the new gas would be less harmful to the ozone. Curtis Moore, writing for the Post, termed the word game "McTruth," adding, "What group renamed this CFC and why, is unclear-but it's plain that what's suffering is the truth. For the chemcial is now what it always was: an ozone destroyer." EDF head Fred Krupp defended his part in the deal, "We don't condone the semantics games played on this issue, but the basic fact remains that one industry decided to act reponsibly." Grassroots groups did not accept the concession. They were concerned with backyard dumps and not ozone holes.

The McToxics Campaign went on. In October, the rest of the country joined in a series of over 200 grassroots actions, targeted on McDonalds, pressing to end excessive plastic packaging. The McToxics Campaign evolved into a worldwide consumer and environmental movement for solid waste and plastics use reduction.

Hundreds of companies and institutions banned plastics without even being targeted. These include the Navy, Coast Guard, Dept of Interior, Wendy's, Dunkin Donuts, Little Caesar's Pizza, countless churches, school systems and businesses. Statewide curbs on plastic packaging are under consideration in 49 states. Numerous local and county ordinances have been passed. The campaign has been an organizers dream, spurring people to build new organizations. Environmental Advocates of Iowa City, IA formed to protest McToxics in 1987. The group has gone on to work on the Medical waste issue. Kids Against Pollution and Youth Environmental Action formed as a result of the campaign and have gone on to win bans on foam in their schools and even pressed McDonalds with a boycott.

We did not expect any of these results when we launched the McToxics Campaign in 1987.

The fight took a number of unexpected turns following the first round of actions. McDonalds proposed mini incinerators, dubbed "Archie McPuffs" to deal with their waste. In 1988, McD's VP, Shelby Yastrow, said, "I'd like to buy an incinerator for every McDonalds." Greenpeace exposed an experimental model operating in suburban Chicago to neighbors who forced its closure. McDonalds was forced to back away from this option.

In 1989, McDonalds came up with a plan to "recycle" styrofoam. CCHW initiated "Operation Send-It-Back" to deluge McDonalds with styro-trash exposing how futile, if not bogus, McDonalds response was. It is not clear how much foam McDonald's received, but one plastics recycler sent tons of foam back to the burger giant when McD's failed to pay up the money to recycle the stuff. Said Superwood president Thane Cochran, "We never got a firm commitment from them in any way. We had been stockpiling the waste containers since January in hopes of getting a purchase order, but we never did." Superwood ended up dumping some of the16.5 tons of McDs styro-waste in local landfills and returned the rest to McDonalds after the food-tainted foam caused a serious odor and vermin problem. Superwood also sent McDs a bill for nearly $50,000 to pay for odor-control equipment and pest-control services. The same vermin problem occurred in McD's mailroom at headquarters in Oak Brook, where Send it Back foam piled up.

Yastrow explained that the foam was thrown away. The McDonalds-Plastics Industry recycling scheme has been pretty lame. After all, it's an end-of-pipe solution. Recycling is a good thing to do with waste once it's been produced. But the real solution is not to produce so much waste in the first place. McDs, Mobil, Amoco and the rest of the plastics industry projected 25% foam recycling.

Hazards Exposed

There were 17 funerals in the Houston area for workers who died in an Arco polystyrene plant explosion in July 1990. Some of it you drink in water drawn from polluted waterways. Some of it went into America's worst abandoned toxic waste sites. Styrene and ethylbenzene are among the most common toxics found at Superfund sites. There are huge styrene pits near production plants, such as the MOTCO dump in Lamarque, TX and the notorious Brio Refinery Superfund site in Pearland, TX. Plastics makers and major customers like McDonalds say styrofoam is a good food packaging because it's clean and safe. Yet according to the industry's trade group, the Polystyrene Packaging Council, styrene gets into food at levels of between 5 and 50 parts per billion. Industry says "there's no cause for alarm" because levels are so low. But are they?

People take medicine (e.g. digitalis for heart trouble) at the parts per billion level. No one can doubt the profound effect it has on the body. One big difference is that a person with heart trouble knowingly takes the drug to get its beneficial effect. In August of 1990 McDonalds held a joint news conference with the Environmental Defense Fund to announce a 6-month "task force" aimed at coming up with ideas to reduce its trash. But would task force deal with the real issue of waste reduction? Or simply be used as more fast food for thought, another McDs P.R. gimmick to rationalize its continued use of 100%-petrochemical styrofoam? EDF has not been a major player in efforts to reduce waste at the source. As Ralph Nader put it, "By concentrating on waste management rather than offering to end the production of waste, McDonalds ignores the human health dangers posed by hazardous chemical emissions produced as McDonalds unneeded plastic and styrofoam packing is manufactured."

Dr Barry Commoner said EDF has been compromised by industry environmentalists who want to "work with corporations, rather than against them." EDF claimed they would get no money and reserved the right to withdraw if they felt McDs wasn't acting in good faith. But, as described, EDF had already been burned by McDs once before. EDF consulted with no group, national or local, on the frontline of the war against fast food waste. In fact, EDF staff confided to CCHW that Krupp didn't even consult with his own key staff, but made the decision on his own. In one editorial on this issue, CCHW suggested that grassroots activists, concerned about this action by EDF, call their toll-free number to register their concerns. Apparently, many did, as it appears that protests from the public, as well as internally within EDF's staff and Board of Directors, made EDF stiffen its stance.

Once McDonalds saw they couldn't count on EDF to provide them with the excuse to continue their wasteful ways, the decison became inevitable. After 3 months of debate, said Rensi, "it became clear that we ought to get out of the foam packaging business." McDs spokespeople continued to passionately defend foam and foam recycling. Then, come Nov. 1, 1990, they changed their tune. McD's VP, Shelby Yastrow, said McDonalds would phase-out of most styrofoam use and reduce their solid waste output 90%. McD President Ed Rensi downplayed environmental concerns, claiming "Our customers just don't feel good about [styrofoam]."

McDonalds change of heart heightened the panic in the plastics industry. The decision meant that the plastics industry's vaunted recycling program was going to lose its main supplier. Jerry Johnston of the industry's Polystyrene Packaging Council called the move "unfortunate...psychologically, a very big blow....No new data has come out that convinces us that polystyrene isn't the best material for fast-food packaging." McDonald's purchases represented 10% or more of most of the major styro-makers business. Mobil, Genpak and Amoco spokespeople said that each company was threatening lay-offs in anticipation of a plunge in business.

The foam recycling program is on the ropes, but the foam makers are putting a happy face on the situation. "What McDonald's did [by abandoning foam] was give us another quarter of red ink." says Russ Welton of the National Polystyrene Recycling Corporation. NPRC was started by $2 million contributions from Mobil, Amoco, Arco, Chevron, Dow, Fina, Huntsman, and Polysar in Fall of 89. Since then the project has run in the red, bolstering claims the foam recyling is not economical. Foam recyclers are still determined to make a go of it. McDonald's they say was not all that great. "The quality of the material we were getting from McDonald's was terrible." Rubbermaid Inc has pleged to use more recycled foam, "if it is consistently available in the right quantity and quality." They admitted that they only have used "modest" amounts to date. History will have a lot to say about the McToxics Campaign, the first product-line victory by the grassroots environmental justice movement.

In the warm glow imediately after the Nov. 1 announcement, the major media essentially "blacked out" any significant mention of the role of the hundreds of local grassroots, student and church groups in winning this fight, preferring instead to credit the major national environmental groups. EDF head Fred Krupp was all too willing to take the credit. "The task force helped to persuade McDonalds that they could do business without the clamshell....McDonalds has seen the future, and it's green." But you know who really made this victory happen and, we're confident, so will history.

date signed: Faxed on July 26, 1993
status: Appeared in court
references: Not applicable/ available
exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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