Tuesday, December 23, 2008
(Part 2) Tipping Point of Tim Hortons Cup
If you missed Part 1, AKAmamma revealed just how big Tim Hortons has become in terms of market share and size (fourth largest quick service chain in North America), and how, through its community initatives, the company has created droves of loyal patrons. The writer argues that TH should be using its position to effect change and influence consumer habits. She is proposing that the company offer a 30-cent discount on take-out coffee orders to customers bringing a refillable cup in an effort to stem the flow of discarded paper cups.
In Part 2, AKAmamma looks into the issue of recyclability and hazards a very conservative guess as to the number of paper cups disposed of each day. But sit tight, the actual number going to landfill in Toronto will astound you.
The Fate of the Single-Use Paper Cup
As promised, I consulted an expert about the recyclability of the paper cup. Sabrina Charron of RECYC-QUEBEC, the provincial body governing recycling in la Belle Province, confirmed my suspicions: paper coffee cups cannot be recycled.
Ms. Charron said that sorting facilities reject paper coffee cups because they have a coated film, which prevents the coffee from soaking through. This film makes recycling very difficult. However, used paper coffee cups may be accepted by a composting site if they are coated with a biodegradable, compostable type of film.
At last, a glimmer of hope...
Except that composting is still in its infancy in the Montreal area. In fact, just last year, the Plateau-Mont Royal borough sent out a notice of interest for residents wanting to take part in a composting pilot project. In other words, several years from now, Tim Hortons coffee cups may be composted if they are coated with a biodegradable, compostable film.
But there is another human factor that should be considered.
"You can imagine what these containers are like after several weeks in a recycling bin, soaked with coffee and often dairy products," said Ms. Charron. "The vast majority of these single-use containers head straight to a landfill site or incinerator."
This is another valid point. I cannot nor do I want to imagine what these cups look like several weeks after use. But maybe we all should. After all, sorting centres are staffed by people like you and me.
Yes, the argument stands that paper is biodegradable and still a better option than polystyrene, which will stay with us indefinitely. But as I recall, most take-out coffee does come with a polystyrene lid.
To illustrate my point that Tim Hortons needs a further cost-reducing incentive to foster customer use of refillable cups, let's do a little number crunching. If each of the 3,294 Tim Hortons stores in Canada and "select" US states, many of which are 24-hour operations, sold on average a very conservative 300 cups of take-out coffee a day, some 988,200 coffee cups (nearly 1 million) and almost as many polystyrene lids would be discarded every day. And given the difference in recycling and composting capacities of the many municipalities with TH stores, my guess is that the vast majority of these cups and lids ends up in landfill.
Is it environmentally responsible to continue this practice? Absolutely not.
Is it a wise use of our natural resources? Absolutely not.
In terms of our municipal tax dollars, do we really want to spend this money disposing of an endless number of paper coffee cups? No.
Although corporations contribute to waste diversion programs, should limits be imposed on the amount of avoidable waste they produce? Yes.
Tim Hortons is not by any stretch the worst offender in terms of using disposable dishes and packaging, and it does have some programs in place that make it more environmentally responsible than other leading fast food corporations. But Tim Hortons could become an environmental leader and corporate model if it were to give rebates to customers using refillable cups for take-out orders.
For all those self-confessed caffeine addicts check in on Thursday, January 20, for Part 3 of the Investigation to see how you can help.
Timmie's vs. Toronto
I came across a few online stories about the face-off between the restaurant industry, headed by Tim Hortons, and the City of Toronto.
Last fall, the City was considering a ban on paper coffee cups by the end of 2009. Apparently consumers toss their used coffee cups into the recycling bin without first removing the lid. As a result, neither the cup nor the lid is recycled. Apparently, the plastic contaminates the paper, and in the end, the City sends 365,000,000 paper coffee cups and lids to landfill every year (http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourview/2008/11/toronto_or_tims_who_should_pay.html).
Well, I can see that the estimate in my previous post was conservative indeed. I estimated a mere million a day went to landfill from all 3,294 Tim Hortons stores. Although this figure is for all Toronto coffee vendors combined, you may recall from my previous post that, according to the TH corporate Website, the company controls more than 75% of the coffee and baked goods sector. Lion's share of the market, lion's share of the discarded cups.
Interestingly enough, in the above-mentioned article, TH said that it was not responsible for how its coffee cups get recycled, and the City should find a way to separate the lid from the cup.
Oh, I understand. Once the coffee cup is purchased, it belongs to the consumer, but once it's discarded, it's the responsibility of the municipality. And where do the municipalities get their money from? Municipal and provincial taxpayers. Funny I didn't order a coffee to go. Did you?
In order to present a fair argument, I must point out that industry, too, makes financial contributions to waste diversion programs. However, how do we reconcile the finite resources of our municipalities with a corporate mission of selling an ever increasing number of items requiring disposal?
You tell me.
To find out more about the brouhaha brewing between Timmie's and Toronto check out Part 3 of the Investigation on Thursday, January 20. In addition, AKAmamma has heard back from TH's corporate affairs manager regarding some tough questions about the company's environmental initiatives. Read about them here.