Monday, June 24th, 2013
An article in Plastics News last week reported that Dunkin’ Donuts will expand its in-store plastic foam cup recycling pilot program begun in February of this year, and plans to be doing it in all company-owned stores later this year. That’s an excellent idea, to be sure, though it may put the donut maker on a collision course with the City of New York.
The idea is excellent because, contrary to what is often repeated in the mass media, polystyrene foam is perfectly recyclable, and is in demand by recyclers that frequently cannot get enough to meet demand, and it’s very unlikely you have seen that in the mass media.
The conflict may come because, also in February of this year, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his final state of the city address proposed banning all polystyrene (PS) foam food service items from the city. Though a real conflict is unlikely to develop — Dunkin’ Donuts is using paper cups in cities that already have banned PS foam — the reality is that there are nearly 500 Dunkin’ Donuts shops in New York’s five boroughs.
The company made a compelling case for why it uses the foam cups in a statement issued soon after Bloomberg made his proposal. Dunkin’ Donuts said it had “…reviewed or tested nearly every type of single-use hot cup on the market, but a viable alternative does not yet exist. This is a process, and we will continue to test and try new things until we find a cup that keeps drinks hot, hands cool and is better for the planet.”
So, although an outright conflict does not appear likely, it is very likely that the almost 500 Dunkin’ Donuts stores in New York City would have to find an alternative to PS foam food service ware, and it is all but certain the alternative will cost more than the PS foam. As Dunkin’s parent company says in its annual sustainability statement, nothing matches PS foam’s combination of performance, cost effectiveness and recyclability.