Dunkin' Donuts is still serving coffee in Styrofoam cups 6 years after saying it would stop

For years, Dunkin' Donuts has been saying it would replace its iconic foam cups with cups that are more friendly to the environment.

In a 2010 report, the coffee chain considered its use of foam to be "the most prominent sustainability issue we must deal with."

In a follow-up report two years later, the company said it was still searching for an alternative to foam. Dunkin' Donuts CEO Nigel Travis said in its 2012 corporate social responsibility report that it hoped to roll out a more sustainable cup in 2 to 3 years.

That effort has pretty much stalled.

Today, six years after declaring that replacing foam cups was the company's "#1 sustainability priority," a majority of Dunkin' Donuts restaurants still serve coffee in cups made of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam. And the company hasn't made much progress transitioning to a suitable alternative.

"We are not prepared to transition fully out of foam at this time," Christine Riley Miller, Dunkin' Brands' senior director of corporate social responsibility, told Business Insider in a statement.

Like McDonald's golden arches, Dunkin' Donuts' foam cups have become an icon of the brand. The company loves them because they're cheap to buy. Customers love them because they insulate hot beverages well. But polystyrene foam is one of the most environmentally unfriendly materials out there, clogging up landfills and choking animals in the wild, among other things.

Because foam is so detrimental to the environment, many municipalities across the country are banning it. In those places, Dunkin' Donuts has introduced new cups made of a recyclable plastic called polypropylene, which the company says is "currently the best available alternative to foam." Polypropylene is much easier to recycle than polystyrene, though it's not as easy to recycle as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is the material used to make most plastic soda bottles.

Polypropylene can be identified by the number "5," which appears on the bottom of cups. A number "6" means polystyrene, or Styrofoam. Polyethylene terephthalate is coded with the number "1."

Dunkin' Donuts' polypropylene cup was the result of years of research to find an alternative to foam that would keep beverages hot and be accepted in municipal recycling facilities, according to Miller. But the company won't be rolling out the new cups nationwide anytime soon for a few reasons.

One issue with the polypropylene cups, according to Miller, is the cost. The polypropylene cup and lid cost a lot more than the foam cup and lid combo.

Miller also said customers, "are not satisfied with the lid on the new cup." The lid, she said, is still made of polystyrene, which is banned in some places and is also not recyclable.

As a result, Miller said the company is still working to find a better alternative.

"They're being reactive," said Conrad Mackerron, senior vice president of As You Sow, an organization that has been pushing Dunkin' Donuts to phase out its foam cups. "They're in a comfortable spot because they've made the commitment and now they say they're just trying the get the logistics right."

One of the main challenges in getting Dunkin' Donuts to ditch foam cups across the board is its ownership structure, Mackerron said. Most Dunkin' Donuts shops are franchises, and according to Mackerron, there would be a lot of push back from franchisees if the company switched to a more expensive cup.

However, Mackerron noted that McDonald's, which also franchises a majority of its restaurants, was able to make the switch from foam.

Photos of McDonald's through the years:

McDonald's through the years
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McDonald's through the years
The McDonald's Museum is a replica of the first corporate McDonald's restaurant, opened here April 15, 1955, after the franchise was acquired from founders Maurice and Richard McDonald.
circa 1955: Exterior view of the first McDonald's fast food restaurant with its neon arches illuminated at night, Des Plaines, Illinois. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The exterior of a McDonald's fast food restaurant is shown in this August 1970 photo. The 'Speedee' McDonald's in Downey, California, named for the original chef logo, the third restaurant built by the McDonald brothers Dick and Maurice has been designated a national landmark and celebrated its 50-year anniversary on August 18, 2003 in Downey, California. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Restaurants McDonald. March 23, 1974. (Photo by Arty Pomerantz/New York Post Archives / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
An employee makes notes at the counter in McDonald's, Southfield, Michigan, USA, July 1978. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)
A McDonald's restaurant in Vienna, Austria, July 1980. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)
Fast food also known as the junk food phenomenon arrived in France, the country of gastronomy in the late seventies early eighties. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, french fries, Coca Cola or Pepsi and milk shakes with the interior decoration and design of the premises in the same atmosphere as in the USA. The beginning of fast food in France started with such companies such as Whataburger, Love Burger, Manhattan Burger, Big Boy, Popeye Burger, Freetime, Burger King and Mcdonald's. Employees at Burger King. (Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)
Fast food also known as the junk food phenomenon arrived in France, the country of gastronomy in the late seventies early eighties. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, french fries, Coca Cola or Pepsi and milk shakes with the interior decoration and design of the premises in the same atmosphere as in the USA. The beginning of fast food in France started with such companies such as Whataburger, Love Burger, Manhattan Burger, Big Boy, Popeye Burger, Freetime, Burger King and Mcdonald's. Employees at Whataburger. (Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)
Interior view of a McDonald's restaurant, showing an employee sweeping the floor and a group of patrons eating, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1987. (Photo by Antonio Perez/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)
123241 05: A Worker Takes An Order From A Customer In China's First Mcdonald's Restaurant April 23, 1992 In Beijing, China. Mcdonald's Opened Its World's Largest Restaurant In The Busiest Shopping District Of The Capital. (Photo By Forrest Anderson/Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) A casual staff member at a McDonald's restaurant, 21 May 1996. AFR Picture by LOUISE KENNERLEY (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
388587 04: Workers try and organize counter space inside a new McDonald's McCafe coffee shop May 1, 2001 in Chicago, the first McCafe located in the United States. McCafe was first introduced in Australia in 1993 and there are now almost 300 of the coffee shops located in 17 countries. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 3: A man walks out of a McDonald's restaurant on First Avenue September 3, 2002 in New York City. McDonald's announced plans to use a new cooking oil for its french fries that it says will cut in half the trans-fatty acid levels while increasing the amount of the more beneficial polyunsaturated fat. (Photo by Mario Tama/Gettty Images)
Marquee of a McDonald's restaurant in Times Square. (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)
DOWNEY, CA - AUGUST 18: An employee serves up french fries at the world's oldest-operating McDonald's fast food restaurant on its 50-year anniversary on August 18, 2003 in Downey, California. This 'Speedee' McDonald's, so named for the original chef logo, was the third restaurant built by the McDonald brothers Dick and Maurice and is a national landmark. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MAY 6: The new Happy Meal for adults is seen at a McDonald's restaurant May 6, 2004 in Dallas, Texas. The meal, which features a salad, bottled water, a Stepometer and booklet for excercising tips, will be available nationwide this Tuesday. (Photo by Mike Fuentes/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 15: A line of customers stretches around the corner at the grand re-opening and 50th anniversary celebration of the opening of the first McDonalds's at the McDonald's Restaurant in downtown Chicago, Illinois Friday, April 15, 2005. The first McDonald's opened in Des Plaines Illinois on April 15, 1955. (Photo by Tannen Maury/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Tokyo, JAPAN: McDonald's Japan employee Noriko Daigo (C) presents the company's new salad mac menu, 'Tomato Grill Chicken Sand', 'Mix Berry Yogurt' and 'Salad dish Grill Chicken' at its restaurant in Tokyo, 19 April 2006. McDonald's will serve the menu starting 13 May. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 29: A sign for the new Happy Meal is displayed at the McDonald's restaurant in Collingwood on August 29, 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. The new Happy Meal is a low fat alternative to the fast food chain's traditional Happy Meal. Childhood obesity is a major health issue in Australia and has tripled in the last 20 years with one in six Australian children classed as obese. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 18: A McDonald's restaurant sign is cast in light at sunset on a road between Canberra and Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, October 18, 2006. (Photo by Jack Atley/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Munich, GERMANY: A McDonald?s Big Mac and chips are pictured at a McDonald?s restaurant beside their headquarters in Munich, southern Germany 27 February 2007. Bane Knezevic (not in picture), president of the western division of McDonald's Europe and chairman of McDonald's Germany reported at a press conference that Mcdonald's turnover had increased by 6,2 percent in 2006. AFP PHOTO DDP/JOERG KOCH GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 22: People enter a McDonald?s restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., on Tuesday, April 22, 2008. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant company, said first-quarter profit rose more than analysts estimated after record European revenue gains outweighed the first drop in U.S. comparable-store sales in five years. (Photo by Tom Starkweather/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 18: A McDonald's restaurant sign lists calorie counts July 18, 2008 in New York City. New York is now the first city in the country to implement a law forcing chain restaurants to post the calorie count of each food next to the items on their menus. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
A McDonald's employee serves a burger and a carton of french fries at one of the company's restaurants in London, U.K., on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant company, plans to increase its number of Russian outlets by 20 percent this year to capitalize on its fastest growing market in Europe. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The world's biggest McDonald's in the Olympic Park during the London 2012 Olympics. or the past 40 years McDonalds has been the Official Restaurant Olympic Games. All official sponsors they have paid $957 million to the IOC for the 19 days competition. Hundreds of food outlets at Olympic venues have been forced to take chips off the menu, because of a demand from sponsor McDonald's. Olympic chiefs banned all 800 food retailers at the 40 Games venues across Britain from dishing up chips because (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - MARCH 12: Customers order food at a McDonald's restaurant drive thru on March 12, 2013 in San Rafael, California. McDonald's has retained its number one ranking in both global and domestic sales and continues to be the largest single restaurant brand in the world with company-store sales last year of $4.53 billion and franchise-store sales of $31.063 billion for a domestic total of $35.59 billion. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A customer walks into a McDonald's Corp. restaurant in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. McDonald's Corp. is scheduled to release earnings data on July 22. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DES PLAINES, IL - OCTOBER 24: In this photo illustration, items from a McDonald's restaurant are shown on October 24, 2013 in Des Plaines, Illinois. McDonald's has announced it will make changes to its low-priced Dollar Menu, which includes items like coffee, small fries, hamburgers and apple pies. The new menu, dubbed the Dollar Menu and More, will offer some higher priced options such as the grilled Onion Cheddar Burger and a McChicken sandwich. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
This photo made on April 8, 2014 in Guantanamo Bay naval base and Joint Detention Facility, shows the McDonald's fast-food restaurant chain sign outside their first and only restaurant on Cuban soil. The restaurant was open in 1986 with a purpose to support morale, welfare and recreation activities for service personnel and their families. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 9: The interior of a McDonald's fast food restaurant, located near Westminster Bridge under the London Eye, is viewed on September 9, 2016, in London, England. The collapse of Great Britain appears to have been greatly exaggerated given the late summer crowds visiting city museums, hotels, and other important tourist attractions. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
McDonald's Corp. chicken nuggets are arranged for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, April 15, 2016. McDonald's Corp. is expected to report quarterly earnings on April 22. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In 2013, McDonald's announced that it would phase out foam cups in favor of paper-based cups at all of its US restaurants. Way back in 1990, the fast-food giant ditched its foam burger containers, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Starbucks's hot cups are made with 10% recycled paper fiber, and while what is and is not recyclable varies by municipality, a representative from Starbucks told Business Insider, "we pay local private haulers across the country to collect and recycle hot cups along with our other recyclable products, compost and trash."

Starbucks has prioritized putting recycling bins in its stores, but that solution only goes so far. After all, most customers take their Starbucks cups to go and then dispose of them in normal trash cans. About 59% of Starbucks stores had front-of-store recycling as of last year.

While the coffee chain has been promoting reusable cups by offering a discount to customers who bring in their own tumblers, progress has been slower than expected. Starbucks had to drastically lower its goal of serving 25% of its beverages in reusable cups to just 5%. Currently only about 1.6% of Starbucks drinks are served in personal tumblers.

In 2015 when New York implemented a ban on foam food containers, Dunkin' Donuts made headlines that said the chain was "phasing out Styrofoam." In fact, the chain did temporarily switch to the recyclable polypropylene cups it had been testing in other regions.

But just a few months after the city's foam ban went into effect, a judge overturned it, under pressure from the restaurant industry. And Dunkin' Donuts soon switched back to its foam cups.

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