Dunkin’ Donuts to Have All Paper Coffee Cups by 2020

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Eliminating polystyrene foam cups starting this year, the company will eventually be saving 1 billion plastic coffee cups from the waste stream annually.

In a perfect world, we would all have reusable coffee cups that we carried around with us wherever we went. But until that ginormous sea change happens, the next best thing would be to see major coffee chains using sustainable materials in their single-use coffee cups. Starbucks has taken a lot of heat, so to speak, for adding 4 billion non-recyclable cups annually to the landfill – which may stand out even more now that Dunkin’ Donuts has announced a transition away from polystyrene foam cups.

From a press release for the new cups, the chain says:

As part of its commitment to serve both people and the planet responsibly, Dunkin’ Donuts, a leading retailer of hot, brewed coffee, today announced plans to eliminate all polystyrene foam cups in its global supply chain beginning in spring 2018, with a targeted completion date of 2020. In U.S. restaurants, Dunkin’ Donuts will replace the foam cup with a new, double-walled paper cup. The majority of Dunkin’ Donuts’ international markets are currently using paper cups, and the brand will work with its franchisees to eliminate foam cups from the remaining international markets by the 2020 goal.

It has been a long time coming, and goes to show that big changes can’t just happen over night – in fact, it took seven years in this case. In 2011, the chain announced that its number one sustainability goal was to find an environmentally friendly coffee cup. Since then they have been working on creating a replacement that “met criteria for performance, environmental impact and cost.”

Dunkin’ Donuts’ transition to paper cups will remove nearly 1 billion foam cups from the waste stream annually, notes the release.

The new cup is made with paperboard certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard. It is a positive development and aligns with the company’s other commitments, like eliminating artificial dyes from items on the menu, building more energy-efficient restaurants, and partnering with the Rainforest Alliance to source certified coffee. In 2014, they announced their commitment to source 100 percent responsible, deforestation-free palm oil.

While the company has quietly been working on other initiatives as well – including an increase in the use of recycled materials in manufacturing their packaging, as well as transitioning away from non-recyclable packaging – the new cups seem worthy of a shout-out. One billion plastic cups a year is a big deal and a great place to start. It appears that the lid will not be changing; even though the cold drink lids were changed from PET to the recyclable polypropylene earlier. Thankfully, unless you're driving on a bumpy road, you can usually do without a lid anyway. (Update: We wrote to the company and asked about the lids. They replied: "The lids are made of high impact polystyrene and are not recyclable, but we are working on a recyclable #5 lid for this cup." They also told us that the new cups' recyclability will vary by city, state and municipality.)

The cups will be introduced at all Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in New York City and California in spring 2018, and will be phased in across the U.S. as supplier manufacturing capabilities ramp up. Let’s hope other coffee chains are not far behind. In the meantime, we still advocate for refillable cups; but we'll be happier to take paper over plastic in a pinch.

Update: We reached out to the company about the recyclability of the hot cups and lids. They tell us that the cup is made of paper and that "The recyclability of the paper cup will vary significantly by city, state and municipality and is based on the recycling services that are offered."