Return-It Blog

Coffee Cup Recycling Pilot with Tim HortonsĀ®, A&W Canada and Metro Vancouver

Every year, millions of coffee cups are disposed of in the City of Vancouver at industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) locations and public spaces.  To help address this challenge, Return-It and Metro Vancouver are working alongside Tim Hortons and A&W Canada to pilot British Columbia’s first initiative to recycle coffee cups in commercial and public buildings.

Currently, coffee cups are collected and recycled through the province’s residential recycling program, however, more than half of hot and cold coffee cups that are disposed of as garbage in Vancouver come from IC&I sources.

Available to consumers today, the pilot program seeks to find a recycling solution for disposable coffee cups that are not included under the residential recycling program.  The initiative includes evaluating a new collection network at commercial and public buildings in five downtown Vancouver locations, with customized bins designed to determine the most effective signage and configuration. The public is encouraged to be part of the solution by placing their used coffee cups in the bins provided. Materials – including coffee cups, lids and sleeves – collected during the pilot will be used to test and develop new recycling solutions.

Return-It and partners come together to launch BC’s first coffee cup recycling pilot for commercial and public buildings. Left to right: Pete Fry, Councillor, City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Committee and National Zero Waste Council; Jack Froese, Mayor of the Township of Langley, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Committee; Lisa Dominato, Councillor, City of Vancouver; Allen Langdon, President & CEO, Return-It; Tom Newitt, Vice President of Marketing, A&W; Sharon Sullivan, Restaurant owner, Tim Hortons; Paul Gagnon, City of Vancouver Corporate Zero Waste Officer; Domenic Carlucci, Manager Franchise Performance, Tim Hortons.

Managed by Return-It, the pilot will evaluate recycling end markets for the items collected, test the marketability of different disposable coffee cup materials (such as laminated cups), encourage public participation, and determine the viability of a broader, permanent program.  Recycling Alternative will support the operations of this pilot and The City of Vancouver is supporting the program by providing building access and maintenance staff. Once the pilot wraps up, results and learnings will be gathered to develop next steps.

The six-month pilot – which accepts all brands of coffee cups – will include a market analysis to determine the long-term viability of a broader program.

“The world’s attention is increasingly focused on the need to reduce waste, and the same goes for BC,” said Allen Langdon, President & CEO, Return-It. “Our province has always been at the forefront in recycling and diverting waste from landfill within Canada, so pioneering this program in Vancouver represents a natural progression in our leadership role.”

This initiative reflects public demand for convenient recycling options in the food and beverage sector. The vast majority – 83 per cent – of Vancouver residents believe the foodservice industry should provide recycling options for their single use cups, according to local polling firm Research Co. This pilot aims to take the first steps to develop and address the large number of cups coming from the IC&I sector.

The five collection sites and public recycling bins will be located at the following downtown Vancouver locations:

  • 701 Georgia Street
  • 777 Hornby Street
  • 300 West Georgia – Library Square
  • 350 West Georgia – Library Square
  • 401 Burrard Street

“Achieving less waste by improving recycling systems reflects the public’s expectations of strong environmental stewardship in the region,” said Sav Dhaliwal, Chair, Metro Vancouver. “By addressing the recyclability of these common items, this pilot is an important first step towards zero waste and the transition to waste prevention and the circular economy.”

“At Tim Hortons, we believe that we have a responsibility to contribute to a clean environment,” says Mike Hancock, Chief Operating Officer, Tim Hortons. “Since 1978, we’ve been encouraging our guests to bring reusable mugs by offering a 10-cent discount, something that we continue to do to this day. This year, we’ll be leveraging our biggest consumer promotions to encourage even more guests to bring reusable mugs. Nationally, we have also rolled out strawless lids that will remove 120 million straws, and wooden stir sticks that will remove 186 million plastic stir sticks from our restaurants each year. This pilot will give us the opportunity to evaluate a publicly accessible hot coffee cup recycling program – we are looking forward to seeing the results.”

“We are excited to be part of this important pilot program,” said Tom Newitt, Vice President Marketing at A&W Canada. “Over the years we’ve made many changes to reduce the environmental impact of our packaging. With reusable mugs, ceramic dishes, and cutlery in our restaurants we’re able to keep over 100 million pieces of single-use packaging out of Canadian landfills each year and most of the take-out packaging we use is either recyclable or compostable; but only where facilities exist. If there’s a way to ensure that all single-use coffee cups in Canada are getting recycled or composted, we want to be part of it.”

Frequently asked questions about the pilot program can be found at https://www.return-it.ca/coffeecup.