Dear Dunkin Donuts: Let Go of The Styrofoam

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing on my mind is usually how quickly I can get out the door to get a cup of coffee.  Yes, I’m addicted to caffeine.  I know it would be much easier to make a pot myself but I prefer to grab a cup of coffee on the go.  I never leave the apartment without my reusable mug because I prefer the taste of coffee from a mug and its the least I can do in my effort to reduce the waste I create and live more sustainably.  I like to support independently owned local coffee shops but I love Dunkin Donuts and I crave a “munchkin” more often than not.  Recently, I was shocked to see that Styrofoam cups are still being used in the stores.  Not only a coffee drinker, I’m also a powerful consumer so until they stop using cups made of Styrofoam, my only means of protest is through my wallet.   I will no longer support Dunkin Donuts.

Recently, Starbucks, a major competitor, made an announcement about achieving an important milestone towards their goal of 100% of their cups being reusable or recyclable by 2015.  They completed a pilot program proving that its possible to recycle their paper cups.  They partnered with International Paper Company, their largest paper cup supplier and Mississippi River Pulp LLC, the only mill in the United States that is currently producing post-consumer recycled fiber that is suitable for new cups.  This is a big deal because paper cups haven’t been recycled for reuse in the past due to difficulty with the petroleum based liner, health reasons and the fact that there isn’t much interest in purchasing paper cup recycled fibers.  This pilot program proves that recycling for reuse is possible.

The average American produces about 4.4 pounds of garbage a day, equaling a total of 1600 pounds a year according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Disposable cups are a large component of the American waste stream with estimates of 58 billion paper cups and 25 billion Styrofoam cups thrown away each year.  Styrofoam is unsustainable and non-biodegradable, taking anywhere from 500 to 2000 years to decompose.  It takes up to 25 to 30% of total landfill area in the United States.  The EPA lists Styrofoam as the fifth largest source of hazardous waste, as its a petroleum based plastic.

So what is Dunkin Donuts waiting for, you may ask? This is a good question.  On the main page of their website, the only mention of any efforts sustainability efforts is, “We are committed to adopting better, more sustainable approaches whenever possible.”  There is a section that highlights the sustainable aspects of their new LEED certified restaurant in Florida.  This particular Dunkin Donuts location will promote a reusable mug program and coffee will be served in paper cups, rather than Styrofoam ones.  There is no indication whether the cups will contain any recycled content or be recyclable.  This is definitely a positive step, but this is just one location out of 6400 stores in North America.  Considering they serve 1 billion cups of coffee per day, reducing Styrofoam use across all stores would make a more impressive impact, showing a more serious commitment to sustainability.

While efforts towards using paper cups over styrofoam are commendable, these cups will still enter our waste stream and while maybe not as toxic as styrofoam, they are still waste.  Recycling efforts are important but as recycling requires energy it’s not the ultimate answer.  The most effective steps are those that create no new additional waste at all and do not require additional energy.   A reusable mug does require energy and materials for manufacturing, but these reusable items are meant to provide thousands of uses that eventually cancel out the emissions as the initial energy expenditure is not ongoing.  I’d prefer to see Dunkin Donuts promote a reusable mug program at every locations.  A Dunkin Donuts store doesn’t have to be LEED-certified to provide a discount incentive to customers for using their own cups.

Until the company make a concerted effort to get rid of Styrofoam cups altogether in their locations, they’ve lost a very valuable, caffeine-addicted customer.  I’ll miss my munchkin but in the long run, refusing to accept their continued use of a toxic, non-biodegradable product, is the most sustainable thing I can do.

Photography from:

5 Responses to “Dear Dunkin Donuts: Let Go of The Styrofoam”
  1. Nice post.
    Once consumers become educated and willing to make choices based on their beliefs and not just needs they become an extremely powerful force.
    I’m from New Zealand and when Cadbury’s (a chocolate company) started adding palm oil to their chocolate basically the entire country boycotted them. They lost a HUGE market share and millions of dollars in revenue. They consequently vowed not to use palm oil any more. Could be a good post or example for you perhaps.
    Chur bro.

  2. Okay, Davida, you’ve convinced me. I’ll never set foot in any of their shops again. Claudia Dreifus

  3. Anna Dengler says:

    Styrofoam is also recyclable and there are companies that offer such services for recycling Styrofoam cups. The problem with Styrofoam over other forms of plastic is that it is lightweight and takes up a lot of room. Waste haulers are paid for recyclable materials based on weight, not volume, so there is little incentive for source separation and recycling, unless the Styrofoam is first compressed. To make recycling work, compression machines are needed on site at a facility that produces a lot of Styrofoam waste. I imagine Dunkin Donuts won’t install them any time soon.

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