By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Don’t expect to see the new Dunkin’ Donuts paper cups in Rhode Island. The “double-walled” paper cup recently rolled out at five D&Ds in Brookilne, Mass., is only in response to the town’s recently enacted ban on Styrofoam. The cup is also used in Freeport, Maine, which banned polystyrene in 1990. But other locations won’t be using them as the cup is just a substitute until a more cost-effective and sustainable product is found. The chain giant aims to have such a cup within three years.
"This is our first step in ultimately finding the ideal solution; we've been searching for a viable cup solution for several years and our quest continues," said Michelle King, spokeswoman for Dunkin' Donuts.
These double-walled paper cups are generally not recyclable and non-compostable, but they at least replace polystyrene, or Styrofoam, which is considered a greater environmental and public health threat
Styrofoam can be recycled in Rhode Island, but only for those able to bring their foam stash to a private processing facility in North Smithfield.
Styrene, the principal ingredient in Styrofoam, is a hazardous chemical and most harmful to humans and the environment during production of Styrofoam. Styrofoam takes centuries to decompose, leaching its chemicals in landfills. Its lingering human health effects as a toxin are disputed. No definitive study has linked styrene to causing cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing the health impacts of styrene.
Benzene, another principal ingredient in Styrofoam, also poses health risks. Its exposure to both hot and cold temperatures increases exposure to both suspected carcinogens. A 2007 study by the Journal of Environmental Sciences concluded, “It was observed that temperature played a major role in the leaching of styrene monomer from Styrofoam cups. Paper cups were found to be safe for hot drinks.”
Styrofoam cups, however, are cheap and insulate beverages well. Polystyrene is not just used for cups and packaging; solid polystyrene is used to make disposable cutlery and CD cases.
In 2012, McDonald’s stopped using foam cups in 2,000 — about 15 percent — of its U.S. restaurants. Dunkin’ Donuts has some 180 stores in Rhode Island and 1,100 in Massachusetts. Starbucks, the world's largest coffee chain, with 25 stores in Rhode Island, eliminated Styrofoam cups in 2006. Starbucks also launched a $1 reusable coffee mug program earlier this year.