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Food & Drink

Dunkin' Donuts Is Phasing Out Styrofoam Cups

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 07:   A cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and a donut bag sit on a counter September 7, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. In an effort to compete with Starbucks in the lucrative coffee market, Dunkin? Donuts has announced a goal of opening more than 10,000 new stores in the U.S. by 2020.  (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 07: A cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and a donut bag sit on a counter September 7, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. In an effort to compete with Starbucks in the lucrative coffee market, Dunkin? Donuts has announced a goal of opening more than 10,000 new stores in the U.S. by 2020. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Millions of Americans rely on Dunkin' Donuts for their morning coffee -- and part of what they love about the chain is that they know they can get the exact same cup of coffee every time. But customers at Dunkin' Donuts locations in New York City will now find that something is different. The coffee is the same as ever, but the cup that contains it isn't. Instead of being made from familiar styrofoam, it's made of plastic.

Specifically, it's made of polypropylene -- polypropylene that is recyclable, as the cups proclaim in large letters, in contrast to notoriously wasteful styrofoam. The change came about because on July 1, New York City's ban on styrofoam finally took effect, and Dunkin' Donuts had no choice but to comply.

Those same cups could soon find their way into stores across the country. Dunkin' Donuts sent The Huffington Post a statement explaining that they're already being tested in selected locations in Massachusetts, Vermont and California. The company is also exploring other materials, such as paper, with the goal of phasing out styrofoam in 2016. Given that Dunkin' Donuts sells 30 cups of coffee every second of the day, that could have a huge impact on the nation's landfills.

The roots of this change reach all the way back to 2006, as the Boston Globe revealed in a great deep-dive on the cups in 2013. That year, Canton, Massacusetts-based Dunkin' Brands, concerned about growing consumer interest in sustainability and looming municipal bans on styrofoam, first started experimenting with new materials for its cups.

Finding suitable alternatives to styrofoam was a challenge. Though many companies shun styrofoam because of its environmental impact, it actually offers some major benefits: it's cheap, it's light, it's easy to print on and it insulates drinks very effectively. The company tried out a number of possible replacements. Initially, the chain settled on cups made of two layers of paper as the best choice, and used them at locations in Brookline, Massachusetts, which banned styrofoam containers in winter 2013. But further testing showed polypropylene fit the company's needs better.

New York City will be the biggest test yet for the polypropylene. Dunkin' Donuts said, in the statement, that the company will "continue to evaluate and test all available cups until we believe we have found the best solution based on cost, performance, commercial viability and environmental impacts," and that the company will make a decision on the new cups by the end of 2015. But one thing is certain: whatever Dunkin' Donuts ends up choosing, it won't be styrofoam.

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