Whataburger Under Fire From Environmentalists For Cups Controversy

Will Texas’ Favorite Fast Food Chain Ditch the Styrofoam?

BY // 11.28.18

We’re late into 2018, and environmental activism is on everyone’s minds. Sea turtles and straws are all over the news. And now it’s hitting close to home in Texas, with an unfortunate yet not wholly unexpected fast food fracas.

But this treasured Texas chain’s conflict isn’t over meat and methane. Instead, the environmentally minded are coming for Whataburger over the franchise’s Styrofoam cups. What a conundrum.

Austin-based Environment Texas has signed, sealed and delivered a petition to Whataburger calling for the Lone Star State cult favorite to replace the cups with an alternative that’s less damaging to the environment.

Whataburger’s headquarters and select locations received a few physical pages, but the entire petition that was emailed to the company came in at 1,600 pages marked up with no less than 53,000 signatures.

Environment Texas has held several protests outside Whataburger’s San Antonio headquarters, one as recent as November 19th. All this comes after the letter they sent in May went unanswered.

Why shine a shaming spotlight on the home of the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit and the fanciest ketchup Texas has ever seen?

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“The Whataburger cups actually stick out just in terms of quantity and visibility,” Environment Texas executive director Luke Metzger tells PaperCity. “Many of our members have sent photos of Whataburger cups that are along the river or beaches, or found in parks.

They’re seeing these cups all over the place.”

There are 800 Whataburgers. That’s a lot of trashed cups, if it’s true.

“They threaten wildlife, they are an eyesore for our parks and our beaches,” Metzger says. “And in 2018, I think we can do much better than that.”

And it only gets worse as the cups disintegrate. Styrofoam cups are made from polystyrene.

“It never fully biodegrades, but breaks down into small parts. The wildlife can mistake it for food and it can block their digestive tract, leading them to starve to death,” Metzger says.

He recommends Whataburger invest in alternative cups, following McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts lead, made of materials like bamboo or paper.

The fast food chain could also take after Starbucks with the coffee juggernaut’s discounts on personal reusable cups that customers bring in.

“They’ve all committed to move away from polystyrene,” Metzger says.

The long-term environmental hope is that restaurants in Texas’ major cities will ditch Styrofoam, like Seattle and New York City — both of which have banned Styrofoam cups altogether.

A December 19th meeting with Environment Texas and Whataburger corporate should shed some light on the situation.

For now, Whataburger is playing a careful balancing act between protecting the environment and maintaining quality, according to an emailed statement from the company’s corporate communications department.

“At Whataburger, we’re always looking for the best way to serve our customers and we value their feedback,” the emailed statement reads. “We continue to look at cup alternatives that keep drinks at the right temperature but we have a lot to consider from a quality and supply perspective when meeting our customers’ expectations. We will share any updates if we have news to share. In the meantime, we continue to urge customers to properly dispose of our cups.”

The future remains murky. But don’t feel like you have to choose between protecting planet earth and chowing down on a sweet and spicy bacon burger, complete with a large Coke.

You can be a fan of both, according to Metzger.

“I love Whataburger,” he says. “And I love our planet.”

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