Environmental and industry officials say that McDonald's Corp.'s recent decision to switch from plastic or foam packaging to paper for most items will bring pressure on other fast-food chains to follow suit.
"We fully expect there will be a ripple effect from this decision," said Richard Denison, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, which worked with McDonald's to revise its packaging. McDonald's decision, he said, "will only up the pressure on others."
Burger King, the No. 2 hamburger chain, already uses lightweight paper boxes.
The decision is also a blow to the polystyrene industry -- already under attack because the manufacturing process gives off ozone-depleting chemicals -- which sells about 20 percent of its products to fast-food restaurants.
And though the industry may try, one venerable foam item is proving the most difficult of all to eliminate: the Styrofoam coffee cup.
So far, McDonald's and other chains say they cannot find a reasonable cardboard substitute that would be readily accepted by a public wary of burnt fingers and scorched thighs