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In Dunkin’s banning of styrofoam cups, a larger issue is brought to light

The popular coffee chain Dunkin’ announced earlier this week that they will be doing away with “double-cupping” their iced and frozen beverages. The chain will be phasing out the widely used styrofoam cups and replacing them with a more environmentally conscious and biodegradable paper option. The practice, which appeared and gained considerable popularity primarily in New England, will be banned first in Rhode Island and Massachusetts starting Dec. 1. Dunkin’ officials predict that the use of styrofoam cups in their stores will be fully phased out as early as this coming January, not only in the U.S. but on a worldwide scale. 

This action by Dunkin’ to reduce the waste produced by their company does deserve a degree of recognition. Recently, an annual report revealed that Dunkin’ uses over one billion styrofoam cups each year across their 8,500 U.S. branches. This number does not include the 3,500 international branches. Styrofoam cups, made out of the material polystyrene, are not biodegradable, and take over 500 years to begin breaking down.  This means that all of the cups that are currently in landfills and as well as all the ones that will eventually end up there will only begin to break down in the year 2519.  

As of this year, polystyrene materials take up 30% of space in landfills worldwide, so the fact that a corporation as large as Dunkin’ has recognized their contribution to the issue and is acting to remove themselves from contributing further is something that we should applaud —  to an extent. 

We see it occur more often than we may realize, a topic becomes sensationalized on social media, and arises outrage in the general public consciousness. For a time, this outrage centers on the idea that a business would produce or use such an environmentally detrimental product, and, due to the risk of losing considerable business on account of the sudden attention that the company or industry is receiving, they are forced to alter their operations to fit the demands of the public. At face value, this may be evaluated as a positive, but why should brands wait until their customer bases resort to protest or boycotting to alter their ways in order to be more sustainable? A classic example of this phenomenon is the plastic straw. 

The plastic straw frenzy that initially developed over the past years and has become a sort of fixture within the environmental movement covers up a widely forgotten reality that is often hidden by social media posts that speak out against the products. The reality is the obvious fact that plastic straws are not the root cause of the environmental problems the Earth is facing, and their eradication is not going to solve anything on a large scale. We need to draw attention away from villainizing the undeniable fact that the people in the world will use a plastic straw here and realize that they are not the ones who are solely responsible for the environmental crisis we are facing as a planet.  

The large corporations that profit off unsustainable business practices and then hide behind the guise of making minor adjustments to remain in a favorable light to the public are the real contributors to the problem and what we need to focus on confronting.  Until that becomes widely recognized and substantial change is made, real palpable progress will not be achieved. It is important that we all do our part in working towards the end goal of confronting climate change and environmental degradation, but without holding the corporations that refuse to acknowledge their contribution to the larger issue accountable is an ineffective solution that is unlikely to change anything.


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