Dunkin' Donuts Opposes Proposed Somerville Styrofoam Ban

Somerville aldermen grilled representatives from Dunkin' Donuts and the Dart Container Corporation at a hearing about a proposed ban on polystyrene takeout food containers.

Representatives from Dunkin' Donuts, the Dart Container Corporation and the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, among others, spoke out Wednesday night to opposed a proposed ban on polystyrene takeout food containers in Somerville.

Meanwhile, several aldermen, residents, and representatives from groups such as Somerville Climate Action and 350 Massachusetts spoke in favor of the ban, while a few members of the local business community seemed skeptical about the proposal.

Dunkin' Donuts, others, oppose polystyrene ban

At a public hearing before the Board of Aldermen's legislative matters committee, Dunkin' Donuts argued it's been "working hard" to find a replacement for polystyrene—commonly known as Styrofoam—cups, but hasn't found one yet, according to Christine Riley, director of corporate social responsibly at Dunkin' Brands, based in Canton.

Riley argued that paper cups are not accepted as a recyclable item in most communities around the county because they contain a leak-resistant covering. She acknowledged, however, that paper cups "are accepted in Somerville" as a recyclable item.

She said the coffee giant has three criteria it's looking for in a non-foam cup: that it complies with food safety standards, that it's recyclable and that it's affordable for franchises.

"[We] haven't found a straightforward solution," Riley said. She also said Dunkin' Donuts has "engaged an outside design firm" to come up with a replacement cup and has launched a pilot in-store recycling program in five stores south of Boston that it hopes to expand in coming months.

Tom Leone, who owns three Dunkin' Donuts stores in Somerville—on Middlesex Avenue near the Somerville courthouse, at the Stop & Shop and at the Hess Gas station on McGrath Highway—said, "Customers don't like paper. It burns their hands when they pick it up." Although small Dunkin' Donuts coffees already come in paper cups, some customers ask for them in foam cups, he said.

Ray Ehrlich, regional manager for government affairs and the environment at the Dart Container Corporation, which makes polystyrene cups, said there's a lot of "misinformation and untruths" about the cups.

"This material is recyclable," he said.

He said, "A ban will not get you where you want to be."

David and Barbara Sherman, who run ReFoamIt, a polystyrene recycling operation in Ayer, also opposed the ban. "Why ban something that can be recycled?" Barbara Sherman asked after showing the aldermen examples of things made from recycled polystyrene, including a picture frame and pens.

Aldermen strike back with pointed questions

Many aldermen at the meeting grilled the industry representatives about polystyrene cups.

Alderman At-Large Dennis Sullivan noted Starbucks uses paper cups, and he asked, "How can they get away with paper cups and you're saying it's not popular? How can they do it and you can't?"

Riley responded that Starbucks serves a cup its customers like, but Dunkin Donuts customers like polystyrene cups. She said, "To switch … doesn't make much sense from an environmental standpoint" because many communities don't recycle paper cups.

Ward 7 Alderman Robert Trane, who proposed the polystyrene ban, talked about the "huge concern with outgas and chemicals" from foam cups. Other coffee companies have paper cups with paper sleeves, and "it behooves you and your organization" to do the same, he said.

He later commented, "It sounds like you're trying to do something [about foam cups], but it sounds a little late to the dance."

Alderman At-Large William White said, "It's not like Somerville is alone here." He noted other communities, such as Brookline, have banned foam cups, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also proposed a ban.

Riley responded, "Paper cups are not recyclable. Period. They're recyclable in the same way foam is."

Later in the hearing, White held up a paper cup and said, "Right now in Somerville this is recyclable ... it would not end up in a landfill."

Although Somerville's recycling guidelines don't mention paper coffee cups specifically, Cambridge, which uses the same recycling system as Somerville—Casella's Zero-Sort recycling—says empty paper coffee cups can be recycled.

Some residents support a ban

A handful of residents spoke at the hearing, mostly to support the polystyrene ban. 

It's a "regressive material," said Julia Jonas-Day, a Somerville resident from 350 Massachusetts, a group working against climate change.

"Styrofoam recycling is not a closed loop cycle … Dunkin' Donuts cups are not what's made from recycled Styrofoam," she said. As a result, "We're not reducing the market demand on petroleum."

Dori Mazor, another resident, said polystyrene "has been banned in Seattle, Portland, Brookline [and] Great Barrington," with, as White noted, New York City exploring a ban.

Melissa Lowitz of Somerville Climate Action said, "Many businesses have been successful using non-polystyrene containers."

Local business community a little skeptical

Stephen Mackey, president and CEO of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed ban "raises questions of science, economics and the efficacy of city-by-city regulations." He hoped the proposed ban "receives further study and discussion."

Jim Kontos, owner of McKinnon's Meat Market in Davis Square, was concerned the ban might affect the way he packages meats, though Trane noted the proposed ban would affect takeout food, not groceries.

Grover Taylor, owner of Ball Square's Eat at Jumbo's restaurant, spoke about his experience. Eat and Jumbos is part of the Sustainable Business Leader Program, an environmental initiative, and the restaurant actively pursues ways to make itself more environmentally friendly.

Taylor said, "I'm someone who can testify to the cost" of using non-polystyrene containers. He said, talking about the materials alternative containers are made from, "I've tried aluminum, corn starch, wheat, fiber." None work as well as polystyrene, he said.

"If you've got a solution, my ears are open," he added.

Schools use 800,000 polystyrene trays a year

Pat Durette, from Somerville Public Schools, said, "All but one of our schools use Styrofoam trays to serve both breakfast and lunch."

In all, she estimated the school uses 800,000 polystyrene trays during the school year, plus another 85,000 during the summer breakfast and lunch program.

A polystyrene tray costs the school district $0.03 a piece, and biodegradable trays cost $0.08. Durette said switching to all biodegradable trays would cost the school district an extra $40,000 a year.

Switching to washable trays would cost about $50,000 up front to pay for the trays and drying racks.

Matter stays in committee

The legislative matters committee will continue to discuss the proposed ban at upcoming meetings.


Public Hearing on Possible Styrofoam Ban on Feb. 27

Somerville to Consider Styrofoam Ban

Should Somerville Ban Styrofoam?

AHM February 28, 2013 at 11:37 AM
This is too ridiculous. These people should be busy solving the problems of the city. They work part time and their efforts are needed here. Banning this kind of product should be done on a state or nationwide level if that's what people want. Not wasting time one city at a time. Are we going to fine people for disposing of a coffee cup in Somerville that was bought in Medford? You can recycle it. For myself I can't even remember the last I got something that had this stuff. But if you are going to do it, do it right.
Tony Medeiros February 28, 2013 at 10:11 PM
If the city is going ban styrofoam then the should do it for everyone. Not just for prepared food, but for unprepared food. Does market basket, stop and shop, shaws. or Mckinnons use any less styrofoam than Dunkin Donuts, or Eat at Jumbos or any food establishment located in the city. Its discrimination. Because typically the unprepared food that is packaged with styrofoam ends up in the trash barrel in your home and not littered in public like Dunkin Donuts cups. Its in the trash which is taken to the landfill just the same. So these businesses are given a pass. If your going to ban styrofoam than ban it for everyone.
Ben A March 01, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Nanny government once again.
LSG March 02, 2013 at 01:41 PM
A better interim solution might be for Somerville to start recycling foam containers. Even if we ban them here, people will still be buying coffee and various other things in different cities where they work or at the mall across the town line or wherever. The containers have to end up somewhere, and even if recycling isn't a closed loop, it makes sense to keep as much as possible out of the landfill.
SomervilleGirl March 02, 2013 at 04:43 PM
AHM, There should be more convincing research to prove that Styrofoam is harmful to human consumption of hot/cold liquids, raw meats, vegetables and take out food. When will they start banning the oil companies that have caused major pollution on the planet? I wonder if the lynch mob going after Dunkin' Donuts is salivating for more "eco-friendly" CORPORATE GIANTS like Starbucks? Their mantra, "Can we have one on every corner of Somerville"? I'm all for Saving the Planet, but some of these hidden agendas are the same pattern of manipulations by those who are determined to drive every local business out of Somerville, just because they self-involved, egomaniacs. We just saw Johnnie's Foodmaster driven out as well, and soon it will be all of them. Some of these new shops in Davis Square are a joke--especially one that sells frozen yogurt. My daughter brought some home last week and a pint was labeled 8-14-2012. They target the competition with any means they can and rally around them until they are driven out of town. I hope Dunkin' Donuts fights back! They should hire a good legal expert who can find some scientific research that will provide them the strategy they need to combat this absurd argument. McKinnon's is right--this is just one nail in the coffin. Soon, they will occupy the entire square unless there is a push-back from the local community. I'd like to see them go after Exxon--but they don't have the backbone, DD is easier.
AHM March 03, 2013 at 12:38 AM
We have what? 10% or maybe better of the people in Somerville telling us how to live. It's amazing how we got along so long without them. I see we have a new little thing going on at Assembly, now they are upset that it may get a supermarket. When will it ever end with these people? Don't they have jobs? They have all this spare time and energy got out and help the homeless and hungry and do something productive.
SomervilleGirl March 03, 2013 at 01:37 AM
AHM, It's more than 10%. The problem is they have NO REAL LIVES, like the rest of us. Mom and dad pay their bills, or the trust funds have kicked in, tuition has been paid, connections gave them lucrative jobs, many do not get married or intend to have children. It's the "all about me" crowd. Self-centered, obnoxious and ignorant. Education does not equal intelligence--not what you know, it's WHO you know, and there is too much of that around, nowadays, beginning with what we have seen happening to our country in the last decade--WS, Banking, Corp Elite and DC. These people are the out-of-towners and now they have targeted Dunkin' Donuts --not because of Styrofoam, but because of their competitors. There is talk of more prime real estate in Union Square possibly going up for sale--Cota Funeral Home and the Post Office. Can we guess what will be built there? As the Green Line Extension is on the horizon? I returned the out dated frozen yogurt and reported it to one of our town officials. There are very strict BOH guidelines when it comes to selling dairy products, but I guess some people feel too special to adhere to those regulations. Owning a business in Davis Square is one step away from landing a job in Hollywood. I'm sick of people saying, "We improved your city by moving here". They have NOT improved our city, they have turned this place into their own playground and all locals be damned who stand in the way.
SomervilleGirl March 03, 2013 at 02:00 AM
AHM, Working for the homeless and hungry does not give them political power they crave. That's what this is about. I also see this behavior by some who have been helping our local politicians become elected. You could not believe some of the obnoxiously rude, intrusive and hostile behavior I have witnessed over the years by some of the so called, "progressive" cult that has invaded our city. They come from an entirely different world than middle America. They are taught practically from birth, that being an over-achiever in life is the only important attribute required to "make it". To hell with compassion, or helping thy neighbor--if it means you can improve your most important asset, your home, drive them out! Bring in more of your friends who will paint their homes just like yours, improve the property, increase its value, then flip it and CASH OUT! You too will be a winner! Have you noticed the pattern? Bring the bikes, hit the gym, shop at Whole Foods, buy a condo, drive a hybrid, get into only the "best schools". If you drive an SUV or old car, are not running for Olympic metal achievement, are opposed to large natural food chains who discriminate against obese employees, don't keep up with the Jones's with major home improvements to increase THEIR home values so they can sell and profit, if your kids are in public school and you have not graduated from that Ivory Tower---you have become a prime target. It won't last, though, you will see.
SomervilleGirl March 03, 2013 at 02:29 AM
AHM, Related topics on efforts to recycle, save our planet, create new forms of energy--are political hot beds. I have worked closely with someone who studied alternative forms of energy. Some of the companies are frauds. Not everything that is labeled, "good for the environment", is a proven fact. What has become abundantly true, however, is the entire concept of "going green" is another lucrative capital venture. Bush hired very same polluters to investigate their own carcinogen producing companies--unbiased oversight? (Sierra Magazine) If Starbucks used Styrofoam, I wonder if the same scenario would be playing out. There are many people opposed to Starbucks, Whole Foods, WalMart, for good reasons. Same is said for the Pharmaceutical Giants and Oil Corporations who are not morally responsible to the billions of people on this planet. The same argument could be made for vaccinations. What harmful ingredients are in flu shots and immunizations which could potentially cause health problems to millions across the globe? Does anyone bother to do the due-diligence on that issue? No--because it would be a political graveyard for those who are looking to skate into retirement. A few years ago, there was the same outcry in a newspaper about Styrofoam in one coastal community. The person complained the D&D cups would litter the nearby marsh. Turned out it was a local coffee shop owner who didn't want D&D competition. Her ploy failed, D&D remained.
SomervilleGirl March 03, 2013 at 03:05 AM
AHM, I heard about the supermarket. I'm hoping the soccer field gets built as well. Anything to keep the balance. We all have a right to live in this city and the changes should not be dictated by one small group of narrow-minded, self-serving snobs. The only reason they are here, is because of our transportation system and convenience. If anyone is doing favors around here--it's US. The locals of our city have loved this place for many years. People who are obsessed with change, even when change is not necessary--have a deeper problem within themselves. Our city has been mocked by the very same people for years--the 95 belt of suburbia who always thought their lives were so much better. Now, they want to live here, but only under their terms. Well, I've got news for them--this city has not changed in over 50+ years. It's still the same place. Putting in new establishments, buying up real estate won't really make a difference. There is a great deal more to changing a city than giving it a face-lift. They don't have a clue-their insular lives have not provided them an instinct of survival as it has for many of the working families I am proud to have known. I wouldn't trade those relationships for anything. We know the meaning of loyalty and friendship. That is just one of many differences between the classes. Money changes people and never for the better- Real "charitable contributions", come from the heart, not the checkbook.
Warren Dew March 03, 2013 at 08:16 AM
Agreed. Recycle the packaging, and we can use whatever packaging material is most effective for the purpose, which might sometimes be styrofoam.
Jesa Damora March 14, 2013 at 02:09 PM
It would be nice to change things for the better in a top-down, organized fashion. You push where you can push. It makes a difference. Small things add up.


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