Dunkin’ Donuts – Now Exploring In-Store Foam Recycling Programs


DunkinDonuts_Cup_LogoDunkin’ Donuts, in the center of Secaucus, New Jersey, quickly switched back to using foam cups after customers complained that paper cups were too hot to hold.

Secaucus’ Environmental Committee members decided to keep the recent foam resolution, which encourages businesses to not use foam products, in place even after a meeting with Dart Container Corporation and the American Chemistry Council. The perception of foam is largely based on improper disposal (also known as littering), which is highly visible. The positive attributes of foam are less visible to the public and are associated with the production, use, and proper disposal of the product. Environmental Committee chair member, Amanda Nesheiwat, said that foam is not biodegradable. It ends up in the rivers and harms wildlife. “You’d be surprised at how many Dunkin’ Donuts cups are in the water.” However, polystyrene food items represent only 0.6% of all roadside litter[i] and 1.5% of all litter.[ii]

However, “Litter is not a product issue, it is a behavior issue,” said Ray Ehrlich, Regional Manager of Government Affairs and the Environment at Dart Container Corporation.

Foam should not be blamed for behavioral problems causing litter because people don’t dispose of their waste properly, Ehrlich said. “We wanted to find out a little more about the issues that the people in Secaucus had with preserve packaging, to help educate them about some of the realities, and talk about other ways to address their concerns without restricting or banning the use of foam.”

Dunkin’ Donuts tried switching to paper cups, but switched back to foam cups almost immediately because customers complained the cups were too hot. Nesheiwat believes that, “It would work if they had those sleeves but they are expensive.” Dunkin’ Donuts is “constantly evaluating new materials but have not yet found anything that meets their performance standards.”[iii]

The average-weight paper hot cup generates about 181% more solid waste by weight than a comparable foam cup. An average-weight paper hot cup with a cardboard sleeve generates even more. The average-weight paper hot cup with a cardboard sleeve generates 379% more solid waste by weight than a comparable foam cup. [iv]

Dunkin’ Donuts is now exploring in-store foam cup recycling programs.

Ehrlich supports comprehensive educational programs to encourage foam recycling. Recycled foam can be used to make clothes hangers, picture frames, rulers, and more.

[i] Midatlantic Solid Waste Consultants, 2009 National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study, prepared for Keep America Beautiful, Final Report, September 18, 2009, pp 3‐2 to 3‐2, Figure 3‐3.

[ii] Environmental Resources Planning, LLC, The Contribution of Polystyrene Foam Food Service Products to Litter, prepared by Steven R. Stein, May, 2012, pp 4, Table 1.

[iii] Styrofoam ban sticks, Adriana Fernandez, April 22, 2012 http://hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/18310596/article-Styrofoam-ban-sticks-Town-refuses-to-retract-resolution-despite-Styrofoam-maker-protest-?instance=secondary_stories_left_column

[iv] Franklin Associates, Ltd. Final Peer-Reviewed Report: Life Cycle Inventory of Polystyrene Foam, Bleached Paperboard, and Corrugated Paperboard Foodservice Products (Prepared for The Polystyrene Packaging Council, March 2006).

Foam Bans