Return-It to Reuse-It and Recycle-It

Reusable and Single-Use Cup Recycling Pilot

Whether they contain coffee, tea or other drinks, approximately 80 million single-use cups end up in the trash in Vancouver each year.

A new pilot project by Return-It, in partnership with Tim Hortons, Starbucks, A&W Canada, McDonald’s Canada, City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Merlin Plastics, aims to keep more cups out of landfills by giving consumers a convenient place to recycle them in commercial and on-street locations. In addition to single-use cups for hot and cold beverages, the program also introduces a reusable cup program, with consumers signing up to use reusable cups that will be washed and returned to retail locations.


reusable cup bin

About the pilot

The collection bins, which are made from recycled plastics, provide an accessible opportunity to quickly redistribute reusables and recycle single-use cups. For single-use cups, consumers will empty out any liquids in one slot, and place the cups and lids in separate slots.

For reusable cups, consumers will scan a QR code on the cup then place it in a slot marked for reusables. Each participating brand will offer consumers a method for signing up for their reusable cup program. Cups that are washed and repacked by Return-It will be returned to each brand and put back into circulation.

Managed by Return-It, the 6-month pilot program seeks to evaluate and determine the viability of a broader, permanent program in the City of Vancouver and other locations. Return-It will collect and process single-use cups and test additional recycling opportunities for the component materials. For reusable cups, Return-It will wash, sanitize and return the cups to each participating brand for redistribution to customers. Once the pilot wraps up, results will be analyzed to evaluate a scalable solution for a cups program that is convenient for customers.

More Bin Locations Coming Soon!

Reusable Cup Collection Bins

  • 401 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 3R2
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups
  • 757 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1A1
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups
  • Coffee Cup Bins
    1200 Bute Street, Vancouver, BC V6E 1N3
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups
  • 300 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 6B4
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups
  • Coffee Cup Bin
    900 West Cordova Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1C6
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups
  • Coffee Cup Bin
    900 West Cordova Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1C6
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups
  • Coffee Cup Bins
    750 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H7
    Reusable and Single-Use Cups

Pilot Partners


Frequently Asked Questions

How does it work?

For single-use cups, consumers will empty out any liquids into one slot, and place the cups and lids into separate slots.

For reusable cups, consumers will scan a QR code on the cup and then place it into a slot marked for reusables.

What items are accepted in the bins?

Single-use: All disposable single-use cups and their lids and sleeves, for both cold or hot beverages, including multi-laminate cups, plastic-lined paper cups and plastic single-use cups are accepted.

Reusable cups: All reusable cups are accepted; however, if the program/brand is not registered to use these bins, the customer will not be able to connect to the individual program for that cup and therefore will not have the deposit or fee credited back to them. As of today, Tim Hortons and ShareWares are the only two participating brands.

How can I know what brands are registered when returning my reusable cup?

When a customer scans the QR code to begin the return process, all participating brands will be listed on the website.

Why do coffee cups need a separate recycling stream?

Hot beverage cups can be challenging to recycle because they come in a number of different material streams and have a polyethylene coating on the inside to keep liquids from soaking through the paper. These attributes require special processes for separating the paper fibres so they can be used to make new products. Also, lids, sleeves are recyclable and there are markets for these materials when sorted separately but there are other potential contaminants like stir sticks, tea bags and napkins which are generally disposed of with the cup and need to be removed before the cups can be recycled.

What are you trying to learn from this pilot?

We are looking to learn and identify a recycling solution for coffee cups consumed in the commercial and public sectors. The pilot will look at collection, public education and participation levels, learnings, finding recycling end markets for disposable coffee cup collection, and testing the marketability of the different material streams.

How can you guarantee the coffee cups collected will actually be recycled?

Coffee cups collected in this pilot will be recycled. The aim of this pilot is to work with other recycling partners outside of BC to test viable recycling solutions at a scalable level for our national partners.

What products can coffee cups be recycled into?

Most residential programs in North America that collect coffee cups market these items to be used in the production of tissues or toilet paper. The pilot will identify higher use recycling options for a clean stream of materials that is not blended with other packaging.

Will this initiative really make a difference?

With millions of coffee cups being disposed of in the City of Vancouver alone, there is a clear need to act now. This pilot is a first step to making a quantifiable difference over the long term.