Disposable Coffee Cups and CBC Marketplace

Disposable Coffee Cups and CBC Marketplace

Last Friday evening CBC Market Place had an investigative show on coffee cups and whether major chains like Starbucks Canada and Tim Horton’s recycle people’s coffee cups. The short answer – they don’t.

Coffee cups are difficult to recycle since they are a composite material. People call them ‘paper cups’ and think that they can be recycled just like any other paper product but the problem with the idea of recycling disposable ‘paper’ beverage cups is that they are not really just paper. They are lined with a thin film of plastic. If they weren’t lined with plastic the paper would get soggy and eventually leak.

Just about everything ‘can’ be recycled but economics doesn’t make it feasible.

Many years ago I buried a paper coffee cup in the worm bin and the paper rotted away and was eaten by the worms but a very thin plastic film was left in the bin.

They mention that Canadians use about 1.5 BILLION disposable paper cups a year. That is a lot of waste and landfill.

Unfortunately, it is my opinion that CBC Marketplace misses the mark on what they could have done with the story. They could have made a point to encourage people to take their own reusable coffee cup with them for their daily caffeine fix and showing what the effect that behaviour change would have on the planet and the waste stream.

They missed that opportunity instead of focusing on what a poor job that these (and every other) large multi-national corporation is doing at recycling their coffee cups. I believe they are focusing on the wrong end of the pipeline. We need to be reducing our consumption of these pieces of garbage.

Recycling is a feel good mechanism. It keeps us consuming and generating garbage instead of stopping and saying – wait a moment – and actually changing a behaviour.

It was even sadder when the CBC Marketplace investigative crew bought to-go cups for their stake out. Even the host gets to-go coffee cups.

How about if we skip getting coffee from these large multinationals and support our local independent coffee shops? How about if we take responsibility for our actions and take our own reusable coffee cups? Even better yet why don’t we ask for Fair Trade and Organic coffee? THEN we would be bringing about real change!

Also, it begs the question – if the recycling deposit boxes are only located in the coffee shop why then are people getting “To-go” cups since they have probably left the store to drink their coffee in their car, on the bus, in their office or somewhere else – not in the coffee shop. I realize that many of these coffee shops do not have the facility to wash reusable cups and therefore it is ‘cheaper’ for them to continually hand out disposable cups ad nauseam. They are not paying the full costs since most of the garbage is being disposed of elsewhere, the long-term ecological debt, and respect for the resources used to manufacture the disposable product.

Canadian citizens want to do the ‘right’ thing while trying to balance that with convenience. We need a shift in this consciousness and it isn’t really just about a disposable coffee cup though it is a symptom of the path that we have been led down.

Only one of these stays out of the trash can.


I am looking forward to the CBC Marketplace episode coming up this week on Best Before Dates.

Be the change you want to see in the world!