Why Dunkin' Donuts Should Switch From Styrofoam Cups

Dunkin’ Donuts sells more than 1.8 billion cups of coffee around the world each year. Unfortunately, most of those are still served in polystyrene (aka “styrofoam”) cups - a practice which Starbucks and McDonald's abandoned in favor of using paper cups. The company claims to be actively searching for a replacement, but it has been slow to do so. While the company searches for the perfect solution, it continues to wreak havoc on the environment. The time has come for Dunkin Donuts to make the switch. Here's why...

Harmful Manufacturing Byproducts
There are many harmful chemical by-products created during the Polystyrene manufacturing process. Some of these are released into the air and the remainder of the solids and liquids must be disposed of in a manner that does not later pollute our drinking water. Of particular concern is the fact that Polystyrene is made using hydrofluorocarbons (“HFCs”). While HFCs deplete the ozone less than the chlorofluorocarbons (“CFCs”) they replaced, HFCs are actually believed to be more harmful in terms of accelerating global warming.

Polystyrene is made from petroleum products, which is costly and harmful to extract from the earth, and is not a renewable resources.

Difficult to Recycle
Though styrofoam cups are recyclable, very few cities actually collect polystyrene in curbside recycling programs. Dunkin Donuts has set up recycling bins in some of the 26 stores that are company owned out of 7,400 total outlets, but very few customers recycle in these bins as most orders are take out.

Polystyrene does not break down when exposed to light or water, so it will sit in landfills forever.

It Floats
Polystyrene is buoyant so when it is washed out to sea it will float forever. There is an area of floating garbage in the Pacific that many estimate is as large as the United States, and much of that is polystyrene.

Negative Health Effects
It is feared that some of the chemical from Polystyrene can leach into the food causing health issues in people. This is especially concerning if someone reheats something inside a polystyrene container.

These reasons are enough to make any environmentally conscious person very concerned. The doughnut chain’s disposable cups even became the topic of a Change.org petition led by a group of 4th & 5th graders from Brookline, MA that attracted 288,045 signatures before it was closed.

The city of Brookline, MA was a pioneer in banning foam cups and now many others, including New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Amherst have banned them as well.

Dunkin Donuts tested a double-walled paper with a plastic lining on the inside in Brookline, MA; however, the new paper cups' plastic lining creates problems for some recycling centers as the plastic melts off and tends to gum up the recycling process. If it is not easily recycled, then why bother?

It has also tested recyclable polypropylene hot cups in select markets. According to the company, polypropylene is sturdy, won't require a sleeve, and can be recycled through most municipal recycling programs. The problem is that they are not biodegradable, and thus if they are not recycled, they will pile up in landfills.

The company is obviously aware of the problem. It has been exploring a broad array of ideas from established suppliers and inventors, but the progress has been too slow. Instead of looking for the perfect solution, the company should consider moving to paper - even as a temporary step. By waiting for the perfect solution, Dunkin Donuts is behaving like someone saying they won't quit smoking until they have lost 100 pounds. Why not stop smoking now, while you continue to work toward your 100 pound goal?

It is important to note that the paper cups that Starbucks and McDonalds uses are not perfect. These cups are lined with either wax or plastic, which as mentioned earlier, clog the recycling machinery unless that city has the proper equipment to deal with it. To its credit, Starbucks is working with each city in which it does business to put these systems in place, and has gone so far as to set the ambitious goal of making 100% of its cups recyclable by 2015. That is the kind of leadership we need on this issue.

For those of you drink coffee, whether from Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks or some other retailers, please consider bringing your own reusable mug to fill up each morning. You'll feel good about yourself and you'll help the environment.