The cups runneth over
What to do about all those Tim Hortons containers littering the countryside?
DANYLO HAWALESHKA | Oct 21, 2005
There are far bigger environmental problems than everyday litter: global warming, decimated fish stocks, deforestation. But litter, somehow, manages to get under people's skin in ways the others don't. A year ago, a Tim Hortons franchise opened in St. Andrews, N.B., and ever since then the chain's disposable coffee cups have been a blight on the quaint summer resort town. Larry Lack, a local organic farm inspector, says the only way to put an end to the mess is to implement a deposit-return system for all throw-away coffee cups. The province already has one in place for a wide variety of beverage containers, including beer bottles and pop cans. So, Lack reasons, why not charge folks a few extra cents when they pick up their morning jolt of java? To get his message across, Lack, 63, collects Tims cups on his walks with his dog, and estimates he now has as many as 500. It's a problem, he says, that goes far beyond his tiny community. "Everywhere I've been, I've seen Tim Hortons cups all over the place," says Lack. "You'll see them in Iqaluit, you'll see them on Pelee Island."
Lots of businesses sell coffee in disposable cups, and lots of people who drink that coffee don't give a second thought about chucking them out the car window. But Tims is the largest at what it does in Canada, and that makes the Oakville, Ont.-based behemoth a big target. As an independently run division of Wendy's International Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, Tim Hortons operates 2,507 outlets in Canada and 270 in the U.S. Last year, the company reported almost $1 billion in revenue. Greg Skinner, a Tim Hortons spokesman, says the chain already recycles cups in the Moncton area and is willing to talk to anyone about doing likewise elsewhere. But a deposit-return system isn't in the cards. "It's a tax, and we don't see a tax as a way of stopping litter," says Skinner. "The key is education, letting people know that it's unacceptable."
Maritime newspapers have jumped all over Lack's story, while the New Brunswick Solid Waste Association plans to press his case with the provincial Department of the Environment. In September, the Sierra Club of Canada said it supports his idea. It helps that the evidence against Tims goes beyond the anecdotal. A study in Nova Scotia that looked at litter in that province's ditches and roadways found that Tim Hortons accounted for 22 per cent of identifiable trash. McDonald's, at 10 per cent, was a distant second, notes conservationist Mark Dittrick, the Halifax-based spokesman for the Sierra Club's Atlantic chapter. "The Tim Hortons cup," Dittrick says, "is easily the No. 1 recognizable item of litter in the country."
In July, Tims launched an anti-littering campaign in Atlantic Canada. But that sort of thing doesn't work as well as when people are forced to pony up their own cash, argues David Coon, policy director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, an environmental protection group. Consumers in the province now pay either a 10-cent or 20-cent deposit, depending on the size of the beverage container. On 10-cent deposits, consumers get five cents back when they return the item to be recycled. The other half is split equally between industry, which uses it to pay for the recycling, and the provincial government's Environmental Trust Fund, which supports various green projects. Since 1992, the N.B. Solid Waste Association estimates that recycling has kept more than one billion containers from cramming its landfills or marring the landscape. "You'd be hard pressed to ever see a pop can, beer bottle or juice box lying on the side of the road anywhere in the province," Coon says. "The recycling rates are phenomenal."
After more than 15 years in the landfill business, Dan Harrington, general manager of New Brunswick's Southwest Solid Waste Commission, wonders whether we've got it all wrong. Why, for example, do consumers who buy reusable razors pay the same tax as those who buy disposables destined for burial in a dump? "In the grand scheme of things, is that what we want to continue to do?" asks Harrington, adding that people will do the right thing only if their money is at stake. "A deposit system for coffee cups may be the answer, it may not be. All I'm saying is there's got to be more of a financial incentive to moderate the behaviour of the masses." Right now, there isn't.
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