Task force studies ways to recycle ‘wasteful’ paper coffee cups

It’s a tempest in a coffee cup – a paper coffee cup, that is.

Since November 2008, the City of Toronto has been locked in a debate with restaurants and fast-food outlets over the recycling of paper hot drink cups. The city does not have the facilities to recycle the cups with plastic lids and wants the hospitality industry to change its packaging to an all-paper cup.

So far, the industry has refused.

According to Public Works chair Glenn De Baeremaeker, this results in over 350 million cups being sent to landfills each year in Toronto.

“The amount of garbage we produce just by coffee cups alone is staggering,” he said. “It is not sustainable. It is not ecologically sound. It is just plain stupid.”

In order to investigate recycling options, council has created a coffee cup task force. It’s made up of 40 people who represent the city, recycling firms, cup manufacturers and restaurants such as Tim Hortons, McDonald’s and Starbucks.

The committee expects to report its findings to council in June of this year.

Coun. De Baeremaeker said Toronto believes the restaurant industry should be held responsible for the garbage it produces and municipalities should not be left holding the recycling bill. That includes the bill to clean up litter.

“The responsibility is on the people making the packaging,” he said. “You make it, you should pay for it.”

Litter is an issue that often springs up around Tim Hortons’ annual Roll Up the Rim contest, which runs from Feb. 23 until March, ending when the game cups run out. Current company policy dictates when customers re-fill travel mugs during the promotion, that they also receive a clean paper game cup.

That leads to more cups sent to landfills, which according to De Baeremaeker,  is “wasteful” and “counterproductive.”.

But currently, Tim Hortons does not provide any other means to enter the contest. David Morelli, director of public affairs at Tim Hortons, said that’s because the act of rolling up the rim is something customers enjoy.

“Customers have come to expect the cup, and, as you can see by the success of the program, really fallen in love with the whole concept,” he said.

Still, the company is aware that using paper cups as game pieces may not be the most environmentally friendly option. Morelli said Tim Hortons is looking into alternatives to the cup.

“We are looking into other options, but are not prepared to discuss those yet,” he said.

Tim Hortons has also started a program to recycle their cups in Toronto through a partnership with Turtle Island, a recycling company in the city. By the spring, Morelli said 175 stores will offer recycling receptacles across Toronto.

The city, however, is hoping restaurants and fast-food outlets will abandon the paper cup/plastic lid model and come up with something compatible with the city’s current recycling facilities. De Baeremaeker envisions instituting an industry-wide standard for recyclable cups.

“We’re trying to change the industry,” he said. “I look forward to the day when we can all have a cup of coffee, enjoy it, and then recycle it.”

Filed by Victoria Wells