In a move that has been brewing for nearly a decade, Dunkin’ Donuts announced it will switch to double-walled paper cups by 2020, removing a billion coffee-stained foam cups from the world’s landfills every year.
The Canton, Mass.-based company is following in the well-trodden path of other fast-food giants hoping to convince consumers they are environmentally conscious places to spend a few bucks.
Can any caffeine-related move be without risk for a company whose 9,000 U.S. stores are heavily invested in the quick-cup-of-coffee business? The company’s logo, after all, is not a Boston cream doughnut or glaze-stained fingers. It is a steaming cup of coffee.
That logo will stay the same, even if the nearly 70-year-old company is entering its post-foam cup era.
“We have a responsibility to improve our packaging, making it better for the planet while still meeting the needs of our guests,” Karen Raskopf, chief communications and sustainability officer for the company, said in a statement detailing the changes.
“Transitioning away from foam has been a critical goal for Dunkin’ Donuts U.S., and with the double-walled cup, we will be able to offer a replacement that meets the needs and expectations of both our customers and the communities we serve.”
The company is also trying to help franchisees build sustainable, energy-efficient buildings. There are food changes, too: coffee beans certified by the Rainforest Alliance, cage-free eggs and crate-free pork.
At the same time, Dunkin’ Donuts is trying to position itself as a beverage-led business, according to CBS News, selling a limited amount of “core doughnuts” in streamlined stores and even mulling eliminating the second d-word from its name.
Another coffee competitor, McDonald’s, said last month it would use only recycled or other environmentally-friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025. McDonald’s move came nearly 30 years after the company ditched polystyrene packaging that critics said clogged landfills, depleted the ozone layer and became a symbol of a throwaway society, according to The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi.
Modern foam cups are not exactly winning any green product awards. Because of their slow decomposition, they end up in oceans and can harm marine life and other animals that swallow it, according to the Associated Press. There has been a push to ban their use.
So another U.S. company has taken an environmentally-friendly step.
“More and more this is the trend,” Magali Delmas, a UCLA economist who studies the environmental decisions companies and consumers make, told The Post. “It’s really not just a question of changing consumer behaviors, but there are also socially responsible investors, and I think companies are trying to be responsive to those investors.”
Another benefit, Delmas said, is companies can find cost savings in a cup switch and tuck that into an environmentally-friendly packaging change.
Companies are learning that it is not always enough to label products as recyclable — especially businesses that try to convince customers they are a convenient alternative.
“Companies are realizing over time that once we give something to the consumer and hope they can recycle, it doesn’t always happen,” Delmas said. Switching to paper cups means companies “save more and have more control over the environmental impact.”