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Stop Using Styrofoam Cups! Kids Challenge Dunkin' Donuts

July 18, 2014

Photo by Change.org

These kids may not be old enough to drink coffee, but they care how it’s served — a group of 4th and 5th graders at the Park School in Brookline, Massachusetts, are begging Dunkin’ Donuts to stop making coffee cups with its signature Styrofoam. Their efforts have caught attention of the donut and coffee mega-chain and on Friday the little activists took part in a meeting with execs at corporate headquarters in nearby Canton, arriving with a Change.org petition boasting nearly 270,000 signatures to get their point across. 

Photo by Change.org

Back in January, a group of Park School kids, some of whom belonged to school green clubs, formed the Kids Styrofoam Club during recess one day and then launched a petition asking the coffee-and-donut giant to eliminate styrofoam cups by Wednesday April 22, 2015 (Earth Day). When they learned that Plymouth, Michigan, IT specialist Paul Kalinka was also petitioning D&D to stop using Styrofoam, the two parties combined their efforts. “We love having a Munchkin snack and a hot cocoa after school,” reads the petition. “However, we are concerned about the Styrofoam cups they use. They sell more than 1.7 billion coffees a year, and most of them come in Styrofoam. We have come to a conclusion, these cups are really affecting our lives, your life, and everything you care about. We’re going to prove to you that Dunkin’ Donuts has to stop using Styrofoam or else there will be big consequences. Dunkin’ Donuts should stop using it because, first of all, it’s bad for the environment. Secondly, it’s bad for animals. And lastly, because it causes human health issues.”

“In May, after hearing about the petition I had launched a year prior, Ted and the kids got in touch called me saying they had 500 signatures and asked if I would want to team up,” Kalinka tells Yahoo Health. “Of course I said yes.” Kalinka launched his petition in 2013 after realizing the impact of his morning cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. “I was amazed how much waste I was creating each day,” he says. 

On Friday morning, Ted Wells, a Park School advisor for green clubs, along with seven of the club's nine members presented their petition to Dunkin’ Donuts and held a meeting with executives to discuss discontinuing the use of Styrofoam. “The kids really spearheaded this project, giving up their recess hour and weekends to work on this project — one girl even left summer camp three days early to come to today’s meeting,” Wells tells Yahoo Shine. 

Styrofoam carries a host of health and environmental problems. It’s primarily composed of an ingredient called polystyrene (also used to manufacture plastic and rubber), which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have identified as a carcinogen. If exposed enough to polystyrene (which can happen if you work in a factory, for example, or from repeated use of the product), a person can develop gastrointestinal, respiratory, and kidney problems. And polystyrene is non-biodegradable, which has a negative ecological impact. Air pollution is another issue — according to The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research, the production of styrofoam releases 57 chemicals into the air. 

Dunkin’ Donuts, which even features a Styrofoam cup in its logo, has come under fire in the past for its use of the material and it’s currently banned in the Massachusetts towns of Brookline and Somerville. And the company says it does have plans to phase out Styrofoam, as described in its email to Yahoo Health: “As we stated in our 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility report, we are committed to finding a long-term alternative to the iconic Dunkin’ Donuts foam cup that meets our guests’ expectations, is affordable for our franchisees and reduces our environmental impacts.  Upon learning of the petition, Dunkin’ Donuts wrote a letter to the students of the Park School to further educate them about our shared objective to find an alternative to the foam cup.  

Additionally, we offered the opportunity for the students to visit our corporate headquarters for a private tour and a meeting with senior executives from our supply chain and corporate social responsibility departments to personally answer questions and discuss our sustainability efforts. We look forward to meeting the students in person and engaging in an informative discussion. We announced our commitment to roll out an alternative to foam within 2-3 years in June 2013, and Dunkin’ Brands continues to examine every commercially available cup and material.  We are currently testing a double walled paper cup in Brookline, Mass. and a #5 recyclable polypropylene cup in Somerville, Mass.  We will continue to explore and test additional materials as they become available over the next 12-18 months.”

That’s great news for the Park School kids who have worked tirelessly to get their message across. “This has been a great learning experience for them,” says Wells. “They’ve gained leadership and confident skills that will serve them a lifetime.” 

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