France has just become the first country to put a formal ban on plastic plates and cups in the name of the environment, but here in the United States, one of the biggest coffee chains still serves its joe in foam cups, a barely recyclable, planet-antagonizing piece of dishware.
Dunkin' Donuts has been saying for six years that it plans to do away with the foam cups, but the company has yet to enact real change.
Foam cups wreck the environment
Eleven U.S. states (plus Washington D.C.) have cities and counties that instituted bans on foam products, Groundswell reported. Why? Those insulating foam cups do a number on Mother Earth.
The foam is not easily biodegradable — the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that foam cups will still be sitting in landfills 500 years from now, National Waste Associates stated. Foam cups can easily crumble into tiny pieces and make their way through storm drains and into marine environments, the Natural Resources Defense Council and As You Sow stated in a report, noting that minuscule foam pieces can be a threat to animals.
Even before it's put into the consumers' hands, the material, known as polystyrene, can put factory workers at risk. Chemicals that get released during the foam's manufacturing are a carcinogen, Green Home noted.
Tons of companies have wised up to foam's failings. McDonald's phased out foam in 2013 after a successful pilot program, Environmental Working Group reported. Jamba Juice announced in 2012 that it would phase out foam, Huffington Post reported, and it did so the following year. Meanwhile, Starbucks has been using 10% post-consumer recycled paper fiber in its cups in North America since 2006.
Dunkin' Donuts' slow progress toward sustainability
When it comes to getting sustainable cups in the hands of consumers, Dunkin' is moving slower than a caffeine addict drinking decaf.
Back in a 2010 report, Dunkin' Donuts said that eliminating its foam cups was "the most prominent sustainability issue we must deal with." Flash forward to 2012: The company announced it hoped to do away with foam and "roll out a cup that meets our cost, performance and environmental criteria within 2 to 3 years."
Today, the company says it's still committed to finding more sustainable cups. Key word: "says."
In an email to Mic, Christine Riley Miller, senior director of corporate social responsibility for Dunkin' brands, said Dunkin' intended to have a plan in place by the end of 2015.
"Based on our efforts to date, we believe that an expanded recyclable polypropylene (#5 plastic) cup is currently the best available alternative to foam," Miller said, explaining that cup is used in cities with a foam ban.
But the polypropylene cup has a lid that isn't easily recyclable, and the cup and lid don't satisfy the needs of customers and the company, Miller stated. Plus, the cup and lid combo "is significantly more expensive" than foam, she noted.
"While we remain committed to finding a long-term recyclable alternative to the foam cup, we are not prepared to transition fully out of foam at this time," Miller said.
In the meantime, coffee drinkers could take a hard look at their own beverage habits. One study found that fewer than 2% of Starbucks coffee drinkers use reusable mugs, even though the company offers a 10 cent discount when customers forgo regular paper cups, Sightline Institute noted.