Is your morning coffee worth polluting our environment for?

TerraCycle Include Canada (English) ZWB Loop Tim Hortons

Though Canada has committed to a plan of zero plastic waste by 2030, we need immediate action, Kaeley Cole writes.

Globally, less than 10 per cent of the world’s plastics are recycled; the rest ends up in landfills, incinerators or as litter. Why should you care? Plastic pollution harms the ecosystems we rely on to keep our planet healthy. According to a report released by the World Economic Forum in 2016, plastics will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. Toxic chemicals from plastics end up in our water and cause behavioural and physiological changes in fish. These chemicals also climb the food chain and eventually impact humans directly. In fact, studies have found tiny plastic particles in human blood and embryos. This is extremely concerning because it means plastics can move around inside our bodies, accumulate in our organs, effect babies’ developing immune systems and cause long-term damage. Though Canada has committed to a plan of zero plastic waste by 2030, we need immediate action. One way we can act now is by making takeout practices greener, much like New York City has done. In 2020, New York cafés and restaurants implemented a 25 cent charge for disposable cups, encouraging people to bring reusable mugs. Additionally, their takeout materials are compostable. We need incentives like this in Canada.
Globally, 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are discarded annually. Most takeout chains have fully plastic lids and cold cups, while hot cups are typically paper with an inner plastic lining. Cups lined with plastic are difficult and expensive to reprocess since the materials need to be separated. As a result, many municipalities don’t recycle these and they end up in the landfill resulting in unnecessary garbage. Lids and cold cups are usually recyclable, but they need to be end up at the right facility. This means making sure residents are properly sorting their waste. Unfortunately, the City of Hamilton doesn’t have public recycling bins, so when people are out and about waste that could be recycled ends up in garbage bins.
The solution? First of all, municipalities should provide clearly marked trash and recycling bins in public spaces. Second, we need to curb our use of single-use cups. This doesn’t mean you need to give up your morning coffee run, but you should do it more sustainably. I conducted a little experiment this week. I got my morning coffee from Starbucks and Tim Hortons at McMaster University. I brought in my own reusable cup to avoid the single-use waste. I was told, because of sanitary reasons and COVID-19, my cup couldn’t be used.
What shocked me is that Starbucks’ website states that as of Aug. 24, 2021, personal reusable cups were reintroduced in stores across Canada. So what’s going on? Either there’s a discrepancy between Starbucks’ policies and operations at individual locations’ or perhaps McMaster Facility Services has imposed a set of rules vendors need to comply with that differs from those at Starbucks’ HQ. Either way I urge students — and Hamiltonians more broadly — to fight for the reintroduction of reusable cups at cafés throughout Hamilton. Tim Hortons brought back the reusable cup option on April 6. It also has innovative plans in the works, like creating recyclable and compostable cups, using artificial intelligence to educate consumers on recycling and composting, as well as piloting TerraCycle’s zero-waste platform Loop. On Nov. 1, 2021, Loop was set in motion at five Burlington locations. Customers can opt to get their orders in returnable containers for a $3 deposit per item, to be refunded when the products are returned. This is a great way to cut down on single-use plastics. I urge folks to participate in this program — let’s make it a success!   Even with Canada following through on its promises toward zero plastic waste, the issue at hand will not just disappear. Plastics travel long distances by wind and water, making plastic pollution a global issue. Though it is important to start at a community level, we can’t forget to advocate for global change.