Dunkin' Donuts (NASDAQ: DNKN) is attempting to phase out the styrofoam coffee cup in an effort to be more environmentally friendly. One possible solution? A paper cup with twice as much paper that the coffee chain will be testing at five locations in Brookline, Mass., a town that's banning foam containers starting on Dec. 1.
The new double-walled paper cup is the product of an announcement Dunkin' made in 2011 to start looking into different materials, a move that came in response to a Change.com petition. The new cup design has its own drawbacks, namely a plastic lining that can be troublesome for recycling centers, but it's the "first step in ultimately finding the ideal solution," spokeswoman Michelle King told Businessweek.
"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."
The chain hopes to have a new cup in the next two to three years, but the design has to meet several criteria. It needs to keep the customer's hands cool, but the coffee hot, and needs to be cheap but more environmentally friendly. Who knew you'd need a materials engineer for a coffee cup?
Of course, Dunkin' isn't a pioneer in this field. Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) both have paper cups that seem to be doing just fine. And the donut chain's current foam cups are, in fact, recyclable themselves, it's just that many cities don't recycle foam.
In the end, environmental responsibility isn't all on the retailer. Dunkin' began testing separate collection bins for the current foam cups earlier this year that would be sent to recycling centers. Unfortunately, many customers don't use them or have started tossing other trash in them. Perhaps this time around they'll speak with their wallets in support of Dunkin's environmental efforts.
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