The hamburger giant's main packaging suppliers have agreed to buy at least 1.8bn Big Mac boxes, made largely from potato starch and developed by the brother of Adnan Khashoggi, the controversial businessman. They also plan cups, plates, bowls, and trays from the same material. The idea is to cut down on the fast food containers that litter parks, roadsides and beaches, by using a material which decomposes on land and dissolves rapidly in water.
Three production lines have already been built to produce the boxes which have been developed by a company run by Essam Khashoggi in co-operation with McDonald's. Manufactured by the Sweetheart Cup Company, the EarthShell containers are expected to be in US hamburger outlets by early next year.
The boxes are made entirely of natural and biodegradable materials, including limestone corn and other starch binders, natural fibres and water, as well as the potato.
Julie Anderson, of the EarthShell Corporation in Santa Barbara, California, said: "They are 100 per cent biodegradable. They will dissolve in water in an hour. And if you put them in your garden the slugs will eat them in weeks.
"People have eaten them and come to no harm. Your body can pass the material without a problem."
The company says the material - which is protected by more than 100 patents - is sturdier and retains heat better than traditional polystyrene, plastic or paper containers. It also consumes 60 per cent less energy in manufacture and is said to be cheaper.