With 2.6 million single-use beverage containers going to Vancouver landfills every week, city staff and environmentalists have been searching for a solution.
The answer, some advocates say, could be found in the way we recycle our pop and beer cans for profit.
People who regularly comb through trash cans for refundable bottles and cans, also known as “binners,” say a similar refund-deposit system should be applied to coffee cups.
“Even five cents will make a massive difference, not just for the recycling but for people that need this extra cash,” Anna Godefroy said.
Godefroy is the director of the Binners Project, which comes together once a year to collect coffee cups in exchange for a five-cent refund. The project raises the money for those refunds throughout the rest of the year.
In just a few hours, the volunteers collect tens of thousands of cups — last year saw 49,000 — proving the demand is there if Vancouver decides to implement their own refund system.
Godefroy has faith that governments will take the idea seriously, calling it a win-win for the environment and those living in poverty.
“The City of Vancouver is very progressive and very keen to get the conversation going,” she said. “So now we just need the discussion to go higher to the government, the provincial government.”
Coffee cups have been accepted in the city’s blue bins since 2014, along with the lids, as long as they’re removed first.
Many coffee shops also offer compostable cups instead of the common waxed paper variety, but even those cups can often be found in trash cans, to the chagrin of store owners who pay extra for the materials.
The city’s statistics about the number of cups being trashed come from a report that outlines Vancouver’s plans to reduce single-use containers.
The plan, which is currently in the consultation phase, features a list of potential solutions for curbing that staggering number, which includes a refund system that would charge consumers a deposit fee that they would collect at a recycling depot.
Monica Kosmak, Vancouver’s Zero Waste Initiative project manager, is pleased the statistics they found have sparked a conversation, although she admits people have been slow to change their habits.
“It makes us feel like there’s a lot of work to do for sure,” Kosmak said, “and really encourage people to not just recycle but reduce as much as possible when they’re using the cups.”
Godefroy says the Binners Project is happy to continue giving binners a place to get a refund on coffee cups, especially as the event continues to pick up in popularity.
“It’s been four years that we’ve done this event, and every year we have a higher turnout,” Godefroy said.