Jenn Abelson reports in the Boston Globe that Coffee rivals join forces in quest for perfect green container. For more than four years, Hellyar, supply chain manager for Dunkin’ Donuts, has hunted for an alternative to the much maligned Styrofoam cup — long enough to earn him the nickname “Joey Cups.’’ The ideal container would have to be recyclable or compostable, keep coffee hot, and not cost franchisees too much.

It might as well be the Holy Grail. Neither Joey Cups and his team of 12, nor anyone else in the industry, has been able to find it.

So now they have decided to join forces. For the first time, Dunkin’, Starbucks, and Tim Hortons are working together to conquer the sustainable container. On Earth Day this April, the competitors convened with cup manufacturers, waste haulers, and municipal officials at a cup summit held at MIT. Since then, they have been sharing prototypes of innovative designs, researching ways to make it financially worthwhile for communities to recycle used coffee cups, and designing a pilot program for a waste-free zone at Faneuil Hall Marketplace where everything would be recycled or composted.

“We are fiercely competitive but we really want to differentiate ourselves on the quality of our product and level of service in stores,’’ said Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact at Starbucks, which hosted the cup summit. “Sustainability is a problem we all have to solve together.’’

Many consumers (and even some coffee executives new to the struggle) think there is an easy answer: switch to paper. But it’s not that simple. It takes roughly 20 million trees and 12 billion gallons of water to manufacture the 58 billion paper cups that end up in the trash every year. Most communities do not have the means or equipment needed to recycle these cups, which involves separating the paper container from the wax-like inner lining that prevents your java from leaking out.

Even the compostable cups of Green Mountain Coffee, known as ecotainers, fall short of perfection because they can only be composted at a few commercial facilities, not in backyard composters.

There are also limitations on materials used to create environmentally friendly cups. The US Food and Drug Administration restricts how much post-consumer recycled fiber can be used in products that come in contact with food. Other cutting-edge containers can’t be readily manufactured in the amounts needed by coffee chains, or they fail to meet performance standards.

One time, Hellyar brought some new cups made of eco-friendly materials to Dunkin’s quality assurance lab to test them out. He poured a fresh hot brew in them and returned to his desk. A few minutes later, a research and development worker came running after him, cursing that two dozen coffee cups were leaking all over the lab.

Read more at: Boston Globe