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Dunkin’ Finally Phasing Out Its Iconic Polystyrene Foam Cups

“Dunkin Donuts coffee” by m01229 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

At long last, Dunkin’ Donuts has committed to phasing out its polystyrene foam to-go cups for hot drinks, which despite being a tangible element of the much-beloved coffee brand have been a longstanding stain on the company’s historically meek corporate sustainability efforts.

The company intends to eliminate the cups beginning this Spring, with a targeted completion date of 2020. The company already offers paper cups in Europe and other jurisdictions in which the grossly environmentally unfriendly polystyrene foam is not allowed.

Beginning in the California and New York markets, as well as at new Dunkin’ concept retail stores, the company will be switching to double-walled paper cups with paperboard certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard, an entry-level standard that has proven controversial in environmental sustainability circles. Dunkin’ will continue to use its existing plastic lids for hot drinks.

“With heat retention properties equal to the company’s foam cup, the new double-walled paper cup will keep beverages hot while keeping hands cool, without the need for a sleeve,” Dunkin’ Donuts said in an announcement of the new goals today.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of coffee sellers throughout the world have managed to never use foam cups, Dunkin’ has maintained time and time again over the past decade that the existing cup market offered no reasonable alternatives. The company even went so far as to devise alternatives to mimic polystyrene foam for jurisdictions in which the material had been banned.



Barry Jarrett

You might want to review the 1994 Hocking report from the University of Victoria, as well as talk to Peet’s Coffee about their follow-up research which verified Hocking’s findings, and Peet’s attempt to switch FROM paper TO polystyrene in the mid-’90s, as a more environmentally friendly choice for disposable coffee cups.

Bill L

It seems that study isn’t really a full environmental analysis. Yes, it analyzes the impact of producing and then washing the cups. And we have different, better materials that can be used, and weren’t considered.

The study ignores freighting & handling impact, which weighs heavily on the break even analysis. Shipping 500x the amount of product has to be considered in overall environmental impact.

Most importantly it doesn’t analyze the impact after use – what is the impact of 500x the # of disposable cups to the environment, especially EPS? The paper cups are all going to landfill too – they’re lined with polyethylene, can’t be recycled. Considering compostable cups would be good too – they’ll have a lower # of course.

Interesting stuff. No perfect solutions but the switch to nonrecyclable paper cups by DD isn’t much of a leap, all things considered.

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