August 24, 2013

Dunkin' Donuts tries new paper cup

The new cups are being tested in communities such as Freeport that have banned polystyrene.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

Dunkin' Donuts shops in Freeport and Brookline, Mass., have rolled out new paper cups designed to mimic plastic foam by keeping drinks warm while staying cool on the outside.

click image to enlarge

New paper cups being used at Dunkin’ Donuts in Freeport and Brookline, Mass., have two paper walls with an air chamber between them.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Ecomaine manager John Morin says the Portland waste management company would be able to recycle the new Dunkin’ Donuts cup, despite a thin coating on the inside.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

The new cups are being tested in communities that have banned polystyrene, which cannot be recycled easily and environmentalists say can harm the health of wildlife -- especially in coastal communities.

Freeport banned polystyrene in 1990, and Brookline's ban is due to take effect Dec. 1.

Portland could soon join that list. The City Council is expected to vote on a proposed ban Sept. 16, according to Mayor Michael Brennan. The ban would take effect on July 1, 2015.

Many restaurants, including Dunkin' Donuts, use polystyrene takeout containers because they keep food and drinks warm without burning customers' hands. Some Dunkin' Donut loyalists have said coffee tastes better from a foam cup.

The cup that Dunkin' Donuts started testing in Freeport and Brookline this week is designed to have those qualities. It has two paper walls, with an air chamber between them.

The cup also has a lid that twists to open and close, to keep the coffee warm longer and prevent spills.

An employee at a Dunkin' Donuts shop that is using the cups said customers' early reviews have been mixed. Some find the twist top confusing, while others have said the coffee doesn't taste the same.

The Dunkin' Donuts in Freeport has been using regular paper cups since the town banned plastic foam more than 20 years ago.

Several customers were just getting their hands on the new cups Friday and were generally pleased.

"I'm glad I don't have to burn my hands," said Pam Rogers, carrying two coffees.

Rose Young also found the cups cooler to the touch and liked the twist lid. "That's pretty neat," she said. "So far, so good."

Dunkin' Donuts, which serves 1.7 billion cups of coffee a year, has been researching new cups to replace plastic foam cups for several years, said Scott Murphy, chief supply officer for Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands.

The new cups are "an initial solution" for stores in towns and cities that have banned plastic foam, he said, and a final design could take two to three years.

"This is our first step in ultimately finding the ideal solution," Murphy said in a written statement. "We want to take every necessary and possible step to make sure that we do the right thing for our brand, our customers, our franchisees and the environment."

Officials in Brookline told The Boston Globe recently that the new cups cannot be recycled because of a plastic-like coating on the inside.

However, the recycling systems at ecomaine, the nonprofit waste management company based in Portland, will be able to handle the new cups, said John Morin, the recycling facility's manager.

"We recycle a lot of stuff other plants don't," Morin said.

Morin had not seen the new cup until one was supplied by a reporter. On Friday, he methodically deconstructed the cup, at times marveling at the patented design.

"It's actually a nice-looking cup," he said.

When he reached the interior, Morin said the coating is no different from any other paper cup the plant recycles. The interior coat is very thin, he observed.

"I'm giving it the thumbs-up for recycling," Morin said.

Paper cups are more expensive than polystyrene. Dunkin' Donuts would not provide a cost difference.

Morin said paper is generally seven times as expensive as polystyrene, which can be recycled but isn't recycled locally because there is no nearby market for the product.

Eight Dunkin' Donut shops in Portland could be affected by a polystyrene ban, which is opposed by local business groups, Gov. Paul LePage and national conservative advocacy groups.

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