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Does America Really Need to Run on Two Disposable Dunkin' Cups?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 21, 2009 07:10 AM

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Just a posting about one of those things that drives me absolutely batty...

I love Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee -- it's one of my favorite treats any time the temperature surpasses about 65 degrees.

But I am mystified by the people who feel compelled to order it ensconced in an extra styrofoam cup. They explain that it prevents their hands from getting wet from the plastic cup's condensation ... or that it keeps the iced coffee cold longer.

Is there any other example in fast food-dom of ordering something with such extraneous packaging? Have you ever seen someone eating fries out of two paper fry pouches, asking for their KFC in an extra bucket, or requesting that their Papa Ginos pizza be double-boxed, for double grease-stain protection?

I've also never seen a recycling bin in a Dunkin' Donuts. So I called the PR folks at the Canton-based franchising company Dunkin' Brands last month to investigate.

The owners of Dunkin' Donuts franchises can make their own policy about double-cupping. Some charge 15 cents or a quarter for the extra cup, and some give it away for free. (The iced coffee I bought last week at a Beacon Hill Dunkin' in order to take the picture above came with a complimentary styrofoam cup.) But Dunkin' as a franchise doesn't really offer its franchisees a standard recycling bin they can use in their stores. (Though the chain is testing recycling bins with one store in St. Petersburg, Florida.)

Some franchisees, like Tim Cloe, have decided to institute their own recycling programs, with bins in the customer area and also behind the counter. (Cloe even experimented for a while with having his stores' used coffee grounds picked up by a company that was turning the grounds into biofuel.) The recycling program costs him money to run, "but I feel it's worthwhile," says Cloe, who lives in Dartmouth and co-owns 20 stores in southeastern Massachusetts. "I'm a local guy who lives in town." His stores also push reusable "commuter" mugs, selling them below cost and offering a discount on refills. And when they sell those extra sytrofoam cups for iced coffee, they charge 15 cents -- and then donate that money to local environmental causes.

I'm far from perfect when it comes to disposable packaging. While I have carried a commuter mug sporadically in the past, I don't do it habitually. But I think my track record is a decent 80 or 90 percent in terms of getting the disposable packaging I do purchase into a recycling bin, usually at home.

So here's what I'd like to know:

    - Are you a double-cupper, and if so, how often (if ever) do you recycle the cups?

    - Do you carry around your own "commuter" coffee mug? What kind of discounts do you get? If you don't carry one, have you tried it and decided you didn't like it?

    - Should Dunkin' design a better cup (rather than two cups) to keep its iced coffee cold?

    - Should Dunkin', and other fast food joints, offer recycling bins in their stores, even if it costs them more? Should it be mandatory, or voluntary? Have you ever seen a recycling bin in a Dunkin' outlet?

Do post a comment...

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44 comments so far...
  1. I tried to resist the double-cupping for a while, but that seemed to confuse the counter people more, and it's already tricky enough getting them to make my coffee the way I want it (they tend to use way too much cream, unless you are very specific about how much or how little you want). I always recycle my DD cups by bringing them home.

    I use a commuter cup for hot coffee, but I keep it at work. When I get to work I retrieve the cup and go next door to the cafeteria, where I get a 25% discount for not using another paper cup.

    I do wonder why DD doesn't just serve the iced coffee in the foam cups. I applaud Mr. Cloe's efforts. I would like to see them encourage recycling by putting bins in the stores, but let's face it, people are ignorant slobs and would just treat them as trash cans, which is probably why the company has resisted the idea.

    Posted by the passenger September 21, 09 09:20 AM
  1. I've said this before. I even got 10 lbs of books from the Weekly Dig for griping about this on Earth Day, saying I would scold anyone I saw walking around with the double cup. I also sent an email to the company's complaint department, but because it asked for the specific store in question, I feel like that complaint got lost in the cracks.

    Meanwhile, at some locations, you don't even have to ask for it. Apparently the employees are so used to handing them out, they do it out of habit now, which is even more irritating as I now take the styrofoam off and give it back to the staff. When this happens, they either save it to use on the next iced-beverage customer, or it gets tossed because it's "used" product.

    Oh, and most recycling companies don't accept polysterene (the styrofoam cups), so this is all on Dunkin' to provide some sort of waste management program, as it'd be asking too much of the company's consumers to do on their own.

    Posted by here you go September 21, 09 09:23 AM
  1. Of course they should have recycling bins, even at some extra cost -- the problem is that many people simply ignore public recycling bins -- and put their "normal" trash into recycling bins. This necessitates having an employee go through the recycle bins to pull out the nonrecyclables -- which is not only very costly in terms of labor cost, but also disgusting and dangerous for the person who needs to go through it (ie, what if someone puts potentially dangerous waste in there).

    Unfortunately, until recycling is done with something approaching 100% compliance, this will be an inevitable side-effect. And it is more than most businesses can ask of their employees or their budget.

    Posted by Jim Dwyer September 21, 09 11:44 AM
  1. Simple solution for DD: stop giving the 2nd cup. It costs you money. Instead, have sell a custom-designed, reusable "Cup Coozie" (branded, of course) at a resonable cost.

    Posted by Gen1us September 21, 09 11:57 AM
  1. Why not do what Starbucks did and have cup sleeves? When I worked at Starbucks in the mid 90's, people were always asking for two cups becuase of the heat of the coffee. So Starbucks came up with sleeves (biodegradable) that slip onto the cup. seems to me that would work for cold beverages as well.

    Posted by batoutofhell September 21, 09 12:33 PM
  1. Use a Koozie. They offer them in all the stores.

    Posted by Lindsey September 21, 09 01:03 PM
  1. I am a double- cupper… but only buy one large and one med styrofoam cup and reuse them on all my iced coffees for the entire summer until they basically fall apart. I have never seen a recycle bin at DD, however I rarely see people finish their coffee before they leave, they normally take their coffees with them. The trash bin in the drive thru (in my towns DD’s) are filled with soda bottles and other trash, it’s not too often I see DD cups.

    Posted by April September 21, 09 01:24 PM
  1. I'm a double-cupper and drink iced coffee year round. However, I reuse my styrofoam cup; I save it at my desk and recycle the single cup daily.

    Posted by dunkinlover September 21, 09 01:24 PM
  1. I am in totaly agreement.
    1) I never take 2 cups, can the styrofoam even be recycled?
    2) I always recycle my plastic iced dunks cups
    3) I do carry a commuter cup, but it doesn't work well at the drive thru, and people at dunks look at you wierd when you hand it to them, so I don't normally use it there
    4) No need for a difference plastic cup, but they should replace the styrofoam with paper
    5) yes, yes, yes, it's obsurd that they don't recycle

    Posted by bans01M September 21, 09 01:29 PM
  1. I do prefer a 2nd cup over my iced coffee, however I do recycle it.. The local Dunkin Donuts near me doesn't charge (yet) for an extra cup..but I leave it in my drawer at work and then just keep using it day after day.. Once it gets dirty and dusty then I get another one.

    Posted by Jodi September 21, 09 01:33 PM
  1. Scott - I've had the same reaction when I see that double-cupping - glad you wrote about this. I am not a "double-cupper" - though I do not carry my own coffee cup either... My experience with that is that it is hard to reliably find a way to keep the mug clean (washing with hot water in the men's lav doesn't quite do it for me...)

    There is a challenge in finding a better cup, though. Technically the styrofoam itself would be better from an insulation point of view - but is not great from recycling point of view. They came up with the holders (at Starbucks) for hot drinks, though - it would seem there might be a way to do something similar with cold. And yes, they should recycle....

    Posted by Barry Horwitz September 21, 09 01:39 PM
  1. What's the point of having them put up recycling bins if most people take their drinks to go? It's a good idea - but the onus should be on the consumer to recycle.

    Posted by Erin September 21, 09 01:52 PM
  1. We had an interesting interaction with Dunkin' a couple weeks back regarding their double-cupping practice. Check out our blog post about it.

    Posted by bGreen lifestyle + building September 21, 09 01:57 PM
  1. Wow, this double cupping thing is so weird. Do places besides DD do this? I had an iced tea from Starbucks the other day and they just serve it in the plastic cup. Yeah, it's cold and yeah there's condensation but it's an iced drink. Duh.

    Posted by abby September 21, 09 02:06 PM
  1. I am a double cupper when it comes to my ice coffee so yes I think they should design a better cup. They also should have styrophome small hot coffee cups because a lot of people double cub those too. You have to not to burn your hand!

    Posted by Cheryl Sullivan September 21, 09 02:46 PM
  1. 1. Yes, I am a "double-cupper" and generally use one styrofoam cup for quite a while because it's just easy and I like ice in my iced coffee
    2. No I don't have a commuter cup because they are a huge pain in a** and are generally unsanitary, plus I don't feel like carrying a cup around with me.
    3. The idea for a better designed cup in intriguing, I'd suggest one made out of baby seals or other renewable products.
    4. The idea of "mandatory" recycling bins is appalling and sounds like another reason for government to intrude on our lives

    People that whine about this "issue" are more annoying than your basic enviro-losers. Maybe you should call Al Gore and ask him to police all DD's to make sure that they are earth compliant.

    Posted by Max September 21, 09 03:26 PM
  1. Dunkins sells iced coffee koozies for a buck. I've had mine for a couple of years, you just need to wash it once in a while. It ticks me off when I hear people asking for a "second cup" instead of getting a Koozie. Cheapskates.

    If I were Dunkins, I wouldn't give out "second cups" as long as I had the koozies in stock. Not sound business.

    Posted by berryjooks September 21, 09 03:34 PM
  1. I recycle my plastic cups at home- always! But it's unfortunate (and I've also written DD's corporate an email) that they do not provide a recycling program in their branches. Never mind all the paper napkins and bags they probably go through in a day! With the price we pay for their coffee i'm SURE they can afford it. 80% of the litter you see on the road now is from their company. Styrofoam is not recyclable either (someone asked that above).

    Posted by kbr819 September 21, 09 03:55 PM
  1. Buy two commuter cups - use one and rinse out at work then bring home and wash properly while the other one is fresh for the next day. Repeat daily. Or even better buy 5 of them and leave in your car.

    Posted by Blaze September 21, 09 04:23 PM
  1. I typically make my coffee at home and bring it to work in a commuter mug. On those days that nothing will beet an iced coffee, I ask for a napkin to put underneath the bottom and have it go a little up the sides. The napkin keeps my hand dry and does not cause as much waste.

    Posted by No-styrofoam September 21, 09 04:47 PM
  1. Uggggggggggg the double cup is a huge pet peeve of mine. I bought one of DD's coozies this summer to keep from wasting napkins to wipe up the condensation as it dripped all over my car.

    I re-use the cups to drink water all day at work and then recycle them. Both the plastic and styrofoam cups are recyclable, as well as the covers.

    We have free coffee and water at work, in styrofoam cups. Some of my co-workers double cup the styrofoam because they say it sweats. Seriously?????

    Needless to say, I think it would be awesome if DD had recycling bins. Although, LOTS of people would still throw their cups in the garbage anyway out of habit or evilness.

    Posted by fram September 21, 09 05:21 PM
  1. Single-serving home espresso machines are typically designed with maximum fabrication, materials use, and waste in mind for all the individual serving packaging they added. I can't say Dunkin Donuts surprises me.

    Posted by greg September 21, 09 05:55 PM
  1. Foam cups are recyclable and are being recycled in some areas across the United States and Canada. It would be interesting to see what % of cups would be recycled if a recycling program was offered. With a foam cup you do not need a sleeve or the need to double cup.

    Posted by Phil September 21, 09 08:41 PM
  1. i never understand why people don't just use a napkin...

    Posted by mx September 21, 09 10:47 PM
  1. I don't drink coffee but do buy a brewed iced tea a couple of times a week during the summer and only recently encountered the "double cup" scenario, when the server gave it to me without asking. Seems like a terrible waste to me; there has to be a better disposable option.

    Posted by Jen September 21, 09 11:21 PM
  1. The more important question is why do consumers allow DD employees to "finish" their beverage - ie add cream, sugar etc. in amounts which the employees deem necessary or appropriate. Is this a cost-saving measure? I was utterly baffled by this and fled to the nearest Starbucks where I could add as much half +half/skim etc. or as little as I needed to perfect my drink. Is this a New England thing? Also the neon pink/Hello Kitty decor is tremendously off-putting.

    Posted by Baffled September 22, 09 12:42 AM
  1. BTW, does Rachel Ray still shill for DD? We were watching an episode of Unwrapped on the Food Network the other night and they were doing a behind-the-scenes look at some of the FN shows. During every break from filming her show, there was RR with a large Starbucks coffee in her hands :^)

    Posted by Dr. Destructo September 22, 09 07:43 AM
  1. Does Dunkin Donuts really use styrofoam? That in itself is a reason not to frequent them.

    Posted by Ray September 22, 09 07:50 AM
  1. Better idea, Dunk should just serve the cold drinks in their foam cup. That way you don't need to double up. The drink stays cold and won't sweat in my cup holder. McD uses foam cups for iced tea and they work great.

    Posted by jbmr September 22, 09 08:18 AM
  1. I drink ice coffee year round, and get 2 cups every time I go in. What is the big deal. I do not water the water dripping all over my car or desk. Listen people i promise you we will all not drownd in sterofoam. The ice caps will melt long before then and the water level will rise and Boston will dissapear.

    Posted by Nick September 22, 09 08:34 AM
  1. 16, Max, if your commuter mugs are unsanitary, maybe you need to learn to wash more.

    Posted by mr. clean September 22, 09 08:59 AM
  1. in Dunedin Fla.... for the week ... main Dunkin is in Sharon Ma........... this one has Free Wi-Fi... no recycle bin here ...We do not double cup .... but we have been enjoying the free donuts .... check out your receipt ... go on line ... get a free donunt ... at your favorite Dunkin until Dec.31,2009


    Posted by Jeff Lane September 22, 09 10:13 AM
  1. I double cup, it keeps the ice all day and when I'm done with my coffee, I keep the cup for water the rest of the day. The single plastic cups are very thin. DD should make one sturdy cup that can be recycled so we don't have to double. It seems like a simple enough solution, but until that happens, I'm still doubling up.

    Posted by Sue September 22, 09 10:57 AM
  1. I've never double cupped my iced coffee, but I do use the "coozie" that they sell (the "coffee condom" as my brother in law calls it). It keeps the coffee nice and cold and keeps the condensation of my table, out of my car, etc. I've put coffee with ice still in the coozie in the fridge, have forgotten about it and still had some ice the next day. I have had mine for several years, so I'm sure it has more than paid for itself in what it would have cost me in double cups.
    As far as recycling goes, aren't most people getting orders to go? I'm all for recycling, and having it available in DD would be great, but I think that most of what comes out of each store gets thrown away elsewhere.

    Posted by MP September 22, 09 10:57 AM
  1. Note to hippies: leave my coffee alone.

    Posted by MiloT September 22, 09 12:05 PM
  1. Perhaps I am being to cynical, but I find this entire discussion to be a deplorable commentary on American society. Debating the use of two cups to keep your hands dry while drinking an iced coffee? Have our lives really become this trivial? The 2nd cup is a complete waste, and DD wants to curb the excess they should charge an additional $1 or more for those who insist on keeping their hands free of that miserable substance known as H20. Call it a carbon tax for consumers...

    At times we are a pathetic species...

    Posted by JimSoFla September 22, 09 12:21 PM
  1. I agree, and am not a double cupper. In fact, we do not have many DD's here in the Midwest, but there are coffee houses that do offer double cups for coffee which I politely decline.

    As for the the use of foam cups, there are still those out there that feel foam (not "Styrofoam" which is a brand name like Kleenex) is the next anti-Christ.
    For those out there, I would just like to share a few comments that might make you think twice the next time you get a paper cup.

    Foam cups and containers for use in the food and beverage industry are one of the greenest products in the market today. Looking at this from a cradle-to-grave standpoint clearly will show this.
    Paper cups and containers are lined with a plastic. This plastic does not allow these products to biodegrade, or even be recycled. In fact, no company I have heard of will take a paper cup, like the onese that Starbucks uses because it is nearly impossible to separate the plastic from the paper to recycle.
    It takes 1/3 the amount of energy to produce a foam cup than it does a paper cup.
    Foam cups are made up of 95% air, which means there is 50% less material going into a foam cup than a paper cup. But even more astounding, is foam cups produce 79% less solid waste than comparable sized paper cups.
    Foam cups are inert - meaning, no they will not break down in a land-fill, but they can be extruded from landfills and recycled.
    The paper cup in the meantime is probably doing it's best to give off methane gas, while not completley breaking down because of that silly plastic liner which is almost 50% of the same type of plastic a foam cup has (it's that air thing again).
    Next, foam cups are recyclable. In the west coast, some communities have adopted curb side recycling programs for expanded polystyrene. In others such as Toronto, Canada, they are investigating programs for users to recycle foam products.
    Lastly, you have to look at the economical standpoint of foam products vs. paper products. a 16 oz foam cup will cost less than half as much than a paper cup. If I were in the foodservice industry, my bottom line would be pretty important.

    paper? I choose foam every time. paper? I choose foam every time.

    Posted by foamguy September 22, 09 03:58 PM
  1. Thank you to the responsible folks who use their own commuter cups -- that really is the best way to go. Recycling is better than landfilling, but not generating the waste in the first place is the ideal. Also, most retail stores are located in strip shopping centers or malls and don't negotiate their own trash hauling/recycling contracts. Mall or shopping center management does that, so stores have to work with their landlords to find a way to recycle -- it's more complicated than just providing recycling bins.

    Posted by Susan September 22, 09 04:42 PM
  1. Firstly, Double-cuppers drive me nuts! My boss is a cronic double cupper (everyday, twice a day, 4 different cups!) Use a Koozie! The DD locations have them for sale and it's worth the small investment to help SAVE OUR PLANET! Jeez!

    The recycling bins at the DD locations is a nice idea, but how many DD drinkers actually finish their coffee at a DD location. I think it's more important that we all encourage our places of employment to have commingled recycling set up as all DD containers (plastic and styrofoam) are recylclable.

    Posted by Opie77 September 22, 09 04:50 PM
  1. First, why even the double cup? If you are going to use the styrofoam cup anyway, don't waste the plastic cup.

    I've contacted Dunkin Donuts several times about this and have never gotten a response. There is an environmetal cost and a business cost to using two cups. People need to think about the impact their choices have on the environment and business owners should think about their bottom line.

    Dunkin Donuts can and should do better than this.

    Posted by J0928 September 24, 09 11:58 AM
  1. It's pretty simple: The double cup is wasteful and bad for the environment. DD should stop permitting this practice!

    Posted by Meg September 24, 09 12:04 PM
  1. This thread shows me how far we still have to go to be an environmentally conscious society. All the articles, documentaries, and movies about global warming don't seem to affect "big business" or the spoiled consumers who frequent their establishments.
    My coffee shop only uses compostable paper cups with a corn based lining for hot drinks, biodegradable corn cups for cold drinks, lids made from sugar cane bagasse, and cup sleeves from recycled paper. Even our straws, forks, spoons, and take out containers are made of either corn or bagasse!
    I feel when people are made aware of their choices, most will choose what's good for the environment and eventually the "big businesses" will have to succumb to the consumers' demands. Remember the huge impact McDonald's made when they converted from styrofoam to paper packaging thanks to the voice of the people.

    Posted by janet September 27, 09 02:38 PM
  1. I don't double cup anything, but I assume that those who do have their reasons. I always ask that my groceries be double bagged so they can get them all in one package (otherwise I end up with two or three of those scrotum-like cheap plastic bags to lug around). I'd suggest finding something more important over which to get worked up.

    Posted by PCL October 5, 09 02:09 PM
  1. When will Dunkin, McDonalds and other coffee services get real and utilize greener products? The thought of drinking - or double cupping - with cups that hurt the earth turns my stomach.
    They have alternatives: The Hot-Handle ( holds hot cups and is made of recycled materials AND can be reused - even if it gets wet. THe DrySleeve ( is the only recycled sleeve for cold drinks that insulates drinks and stops the cup from dripping and sweating.
    Let's get them to HELP the planet, not RUIN it.

    Posted by Chris Hall October 15, 09 09:36 PM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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