Coffee drinkers around the Capital City were taken aback recently when they saw styrofoam cups for Green Mountain Coffee being sold at convenience stores. Company officials say they’re just as flummoxed by the reports.
Sandy Yusen, director of corporate communications and community relations for Keurig Green Mountain Inc., said she and the director of sustainability were working to find out where the styrofoam cups came from.
“Certainly, the cup is not our preferred option,” Yusen said. “We don’t believe it’s a reflection of our commitment to sustainability.”
Though the styrofoam cups bear the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters logo, they are not distributed by the firm, Yusen said. The only “fully branded” to-go cup the company offers is a so-called eco-tainer, developed with International Paper in 2006.
The paper cup is lined with a non-petroleum plastic made of corn. Under the right circumstances, it can decompose into organic matter, Yusen said.
Styrofoam takes much longer to break down, according to Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Burns said both paper and styrofoam disposable cups typically end up in the landfill, where it’s difficult for anything to break down. What adds to his concerns about styrofoam is the toxicity of its manufacturing process.
“It’s kind of an environmental disaster,” Burns said.
Styrene, a chemical involved in the production of styrofoam, is on the federal list of hazardous substances most commonly found at Superfund sites. It’s a likely human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program. And though naturally present in trace amounts, industrial use of the chemical can release styrene into the air, soil and water.
Burns said due to environmental and health concerns surrounding petroleum-based styrofoam, most restaurants and other food packagers have been moving away from it.
His concern is shared by Keurig Green Mountain, Yusen said.
“It does seem that a number of stores in this area have chosen a less sustainable cup option. We, too, are troubled by this,” she said.
Yusen said one of the company’s own employees had spotted the styrofoam cups, and that staff was already trying to track down the source when contacted by VTDigger.
“We are really in a fortunate place to have many points of distribution for our coffee,” Yusen said. “And it’s not always possible to know what is happening with every customer out there. It helps us when we hear from our coffee drinking fans with feedback.”
Yusen said the company appreciates hearing concerns from customers, which help guide the firm’s policies and practices. She said her hope is that sustainability goals and shareholder demand for monetary returns “can be one and the same.”
Andrea Cohen is executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, of which Keurig Green Mountain is a longtime member.
Cohen said the company’s acquisition and focus on sales of K-cups, the disposable single-serve coffee pods, has raised concerns.
“We’re not the social responsibility police,” Cohen said. But the organization does like to be a resource to member companies as they make decisions about supply chains, she said.