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Dunkin’ Donuts Cuts 4.6m Pounds a Year From Cup Waste

Dunkin’ Donuts has eliminated 4.6 million pounds of waste a year by reducing the weight of two disposable cups, according to the firm’s first corporate responsibility report.

The company, which has 16,100 Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurants, describes the environment as its “#1 sustainability priority,” and says the most prominent sustainability issue it has to deal with is the foam cup used to serve Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. It reduced the weight of both its foam hot and its plastic cold cup in 2009, but says it has struggled to find a more sustainable replacement for the foam cup.

“Our research shows that our guests love the benefits of our current expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam cup. It keeps coffee hot longer while keeping hands cool, it is very durable, and its lid prevents spills and dangerous incidents from hot beverages,” the report said.

“Over the past four years, we have reviewed or tested nearly every type of single-use hot cup available on the market in our quest for an alternative to the foam cup, and there is simply no single-use hot cup on the market today that meets all of our performance, cost and environmental criteria,” the report added

The company says that it has considered lined paper cups, but these are not recyclable in most communities because special equipment is needed to separate the paper from its petroleum-based inner lining. Dunkin’ says it has also studied compostable paper cups, but these cups can only be composted at a few commercial facilities, not in backyard compost bins.

It notes that while paper may appear to be environmentally preferable, paper cups of all types require more energy, raw materials and water to produce than foam, and they take up more landfill space. And it says that some promising innovations such as bioresins are in development, but most of these options are not commercially available today.

The company says, however, that it is committed to finding a viable alternative. It offers a reusable mug program as an option for franchisees and is preparing to test an in-store foam cup recycling program.

The company does believe that it is close to finding a new material to replace the polystyrene in Baskin-Robbins’ pink ice cream spoons. This material promises to be recyclable, affordable and strong enough to scoop hard ice cream, the report said, and if it meets the company’s standards, it will be rolled out by 2013.

In 2009, Dunkin’ switched to a new, 100 percent post-consumer fiber napkin system-wide, which the company says is annually saving:

  • 38 million gallons of water
  • 16,000 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 22 million kilowatts of energy
  • 11,000 gallons of oil
  • 323,000 lbs of air pollutants
  • 92,000 trees

And it introduced new napkin dispensers that reduce waste by controlling usage. Together, these changes resulted in a 25 percent reduction in napkin waste overall, the company said.

With this first report, Dunkin’ Donuts describes itself as “at the beginning of its CSR journey”. The company formed its CSR department in 2007. Dunkin plans to report on a two-year cycle.

The report focuses on corporate functions and North American facilities owned and operated by Dunkin’ Brands and its  subsidiaries for the year 2010, and is self-declared at GRI application level C.

“While we have made progress in many areas, we recognize there is much more for us to do,” the report said. “We know that with nearly 100 percent franchised restaurant operations, our business model presents specific sustainability and reporting challenges and opportunities.”

The company says it is planning to review its supplier code of conduct to ensure it addresses the issues most material to the business. Currently, the code only covers human rights issues. Dunkin’ says it will work with franchisee-owned distribution centers to integrate the Code’s elements more clearly into RFPs and procurement decisions.

The firm says it plans to establish an animal welfare policy by 2013, incorporate animal treatment standards into its supplier code of conduct, and set meaningful, achievable goals in this area. It says it will complete feasibility studies by 2013 on the use of cage-free eggs and gestation crate-free pork in its products. The company will research available quantities and food safety, among other issues.

Dunkin’ Donuts prepares all of its donut products using a blend of palm, soy and cottonseed oil. The company says it is working with suppliers to buy oils from sustainable sources.

The report said that restaurants are the main source of Dunkin’s environmental impacts, including carbon emissions. Franchisees manage their own utility bills and contracts, and the company says it does not currently have the ability to capture or track restaurant utility data at the corporate level.

In 2010, however, Dunkin’ Brands acquired and began operating a small number of Dunkin’ Donuts stores where it will be tracking impacts, to help determine feasibility and scalability of sustainability efforts.

In 2008, the company hired professional energy consultants to review its restaurant specifications and recommend opportunities to improve building design and energy efficiency. It says it has developed low- to no-cost energy reduction measures that existing stores can implement, from solar shades and motion sensors to daylight harvesting, and created an online building resource for approved franchisees, architects, contractors and engineers to access government energy rebates and incentives, energy calculators, and a host of other sustainable building information.

In 2008, franchisee Robert Aziz built the first “green” Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant in St. Petersburg, Fla., achieving LEED silver certification in 2010, and the company says it will break ground on a second green restaurant in the same city this year.

“While we have found that LEED certification is not feasible for every new construction project or every franchisee, we continue to implement many LEED recommendations to make our restaurants greener,” the report said.

The company also plans to create sustainable building filters and goals for new construction in 2012, and incorporate improved sustainable materials into a new Dunkin’ Donuts store design in 2012.

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