In Search of an Environmentally Friendly Coffee Cup

Dunkin’ Donuts continues tests as cities ban Styrofoam use

CANTON, Mass. -- Dunkin’ Donuts is testing a double-walled paper cup at five locations in Brookline, Mass., a town that will ban the use of foam containers starting Dec. 1.

The test follows a 2011 announcement that the company--encouraged by a petition that’s drawn nearly 125,000 signatures--would consider using different materials. Dunkin’ has been experimenting with other types of cups over the past few years, spokeswoman Michelle King told BusinessWeek.

The new test cup isn’t a perfect solution, according to the report. The new cups have a plastic lining, which can be tricky for recycling centers, and Dunkin’ is still collecting feedback from consumers. “This is our first step in ultimately finding the ideal solution,” King said.

Dunkin’ aims to have an alternative cup in two to three years. The chain says its final design will have to meet several criteria: The cup must keep hands cool, keep the coffee hot, be cheap and have a better environmental footprint—for example, by being recyclable. Despite Dunkin’s deliberate pace, other chains already have paved the way with consumers. Starbucks customers seem pretty used to paper, and McDonald’s started an extensive paper cup pilot last year.

“This is an important and complicated issue, and we want to take every step to make sure that we get this right,” King said. “We are willing to make changes when we feel confident that we’re making changes that are right for our brand, our customers, our franchisees and the environment. The fact is that there is no single-use hot coffee cup on the market today that is able to be easily recycled. So we are proactively researching possible alternatives to address the issue and examining every commercially available cup and material. This test is part of that larger effort.”

The test comes as other cities also consider banning foam containers, including New York, Baltimore, Cupertino, Calif., Portland, Maine, and Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Actually, the foam cups Dunkin’ uses now are recyclable and can be used to make such things as furniture, coat hangers and disc cases. It’s just that most cities don’t recycle foam, according to the report.

Earlier this year, Dunkin’ also began testing a program in a handful of stores that provides a separate collection bin for foam cups to be sent to recycling centers. It hasn’t gone too well, so far. Few customers use the bins, including those who take their coffee to go, and they often became contaminated with other trash, according to Dunkin’ Brands’ 2012 corporate social responsibility report, released in June.

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